None of us is immune from tragedy.
For all those who’ve been affected by personal losses under difficult circumstances, the feeling surrounding the Humboldt Broncos bus accident that claimed 15 lives is totally unthinkable.
The Humboldt, Saskatchewan community and all who’ve lived there at one point or had some connection to it is just the starting point. By the time you factor in the families and friends of the players who died – many coming from other towns and cities in Western Canada – and then the hockey community as a whole at all levels, the magnitude of the people impacted is enormous.
This one hit like a huge punch to the gut, striking at the heart of the nation through the hockey fraternity.
We’ve had countless players from the Cowichan Valley who’ve ridden the bus for long hours at a time in junior and minor professional hockey over many years, mostly without incident. You’re always aware that something could happen at any time logging long miles in the winter all over Canada, but serious accidents have fortunately been few and far between.
My brother Doug played his junior hockey in Kamloops for two seasons before going to the NHL. I rode on the bus once with the Junior Oilers at the time, heading south for games in Seattle and then Portland.
It really is a family affair where players pass the time bonding, sleeping, playing cards and generally settling in for the long haul together. It seems arduous at the time, but most players will tell you it’s also such a great experience and life-long friendships are made.
It’s not only the players, but also the team officials and volunteers who are right there with them every kilometre of the way. The nearby Cowichan Valley Capitals of the B.C. Hockey League are on the bus travelling through some treacherous terrain and horrible winter weather from Prince George in the north to way down in Wenatchee, Washington to the south.
“I think of the days spent riding the bus all over the province with the coaches and players, standing at the front of the bus chatting with the bus driver in the wee hours of the morning,” noted longtime Capitals’ trainer/equipment manager Rick Smith of Crofton. “It is unimaginable what happened to the hockey world yesterday (Friday). Riding in the iron lung that is supposed to be your safe haven. My heart goes out to the families, friends and Humboldt community during this devastating tragedy.”
I also made a road trip with the Capitals once in 1997 for games in Vernon, Prince George and Quesnel. Conditions were a little more cramped at the time for BCHL teams on the bus compared to some of the luxury coaches of the Western Hockey League squads. But, again, it was fun to share stories and talk with the players on a different level.
Darren Wright, who operates a business in Chemainus called Speed Sincher Incorporated, grew up with his dad running the Capitals as general manager and then went on to play in the WHL and East Coast Hockey Leagues.
“My heart is broken for these people and the whole hockey community’s is,” he indicated.
Wright wrote a poem about life on the bus for a hockey player that you can read on Page A4.
Everyone who ever played hockey that involved extensive travel on the bus is thinking long and hard about those experiences again. It’s truly horrific these young Humboldt players and staff members died on a road trip that’s usually such an enjoyable part of hockey.
We can all grieve as a nation over this and it’s also a time to remember the individual losses we’ve all encountered.
I had a nephew killed in a crosswalk, along with another friend, in Kamloops in 2004 at the age of just 17 after an elderly driver struck them with his car.
We also just recently had the Cowichan Valley Memorial Midget C Hockey Tournament at Fuller Lake that brought families together from the sudden deaths of loved ones.
Events such as that are so helpful. But as one mom, Laura Robertson pointed out, “I have a hole in my heart that will never be healed.”
We can only imagine the long-standing ramifications of the situation for Humboldt. All we can do is offer our prayers and support, financial contributions, donations, fundraisers, memorials or whatever kinds of tributes that might be appropriate and hope it does even a little something to aid in the healing process.
(Don Bodger is the editor of the Chemainus Valley Courier).