Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says all of Canada will be cheering for the Humboldt Broncos tonight when the Saskatchewan junior hockey team plays their first game since a fatal bus crash.
Speaking at a Liberal caucus meeting in Saskatoon, Trudeau said the community of Humboldt suffered unimaginable shock, grief and trauma in April when the team’s bus and a tractor-trailer collided at a rural intersection.
Sixteen people, including 10 players, were killed and 13 players were injured.
“Canadians everywhere were heartbroken and we mourned alongside the community,” he told his caucus on Wednesday. “But in the wake of this tragedy, Humboldt has shown incredible resilience and strength.
“Canadians were quick to share their love, support, generosity and kindness in a moment when it was so desperately needed. So to the people of Humboldt, know that we are with you. Know that we will continue to support you as you heal.”
The Broncos are to play their home opener tonight against the Nipawin Hawks — the same team the Broncos were supposed to face the night of the crash.
Trudeau said he’s glad that the Broncos will be back on the ice tonight and he wished them the very best.
“You have us and 37 million fans cheering you on,” he said to applause.
Jamie Brockman, president of the Humboldt Broncos, said the team is grateful for all the support it has received from across Canada and the world. Tonight’s game and tribute to last year’s team is a turning point for many, he said Wednesday.
“We’re going to find out what our new normal is after today,” Brockman said. “Hockey is back in Humboldt. We are strong and we are going to survive and we are going to move forward.”
The main entrance to the Elgar Petersen Arena was lined with pictures of all 16 people who died in the crash.
Sixteen hockey sticks adorned with green and yellow ribbons were lined up outside. Nearby a green bench was emblazoned with the words ”Always in our hearts. 29 on the fateful ride, 16 souls died.”
The Broncos lost their coach, Darcy Haugan, in the crash. Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter are the only two survivors that are back playing with the junior A team this season.
“It’s a great day to be a Bronco, gentlemen” — something Haugan often told his players — is now enscribed outside the team’s dressing room.
The team’s new coach, Nathan Oystrick, said he’s focusing on his players and has spoken with every member at some point to let them know he is there for them.
“I’m an open guy,” he said in an interview Tuesday. ”If there is something that is bothering them, they can come and talk to me whenever they want.”
Oystrick said he understands that hockey players don’t always like talking to their coach.
That is why he has hired longtime friend and former teammate Mark Popovic as the team’s director of personal development and leadership. Popovic has talked to FBI agents about how to deal with trauma, Oystrick added.
Players can also lean on Pastor Sean Brandow, the team chaplain, who is returning for another season. Brandow arrived at the crash site shortly after it happened and spoke at a vigil two days later. He also spoke at the funerals of some of the players.
“We want to just love these guys and care for them and be there to support them,” he said.
Ryan McKenna, The Canadian Press