SPORTS TALK: We know Humboldt is hurting but we know they will heal

by James McCarthy- April 15, 2018

I’m not going to rehash any of the information we already know about the tragedy that was the Humboldt Broncos bus crash on April 6.

We know 16 people lost their lives. We know 13 others were injured, some more seriously than others. We know a hockey team has been irreparably changed forever. We know a community had its collective heart ripped out of its chest that day.

Cartoonist Patrick Lamontagne summed up exactly how we’re all feeling when it comes to the Humboldt Broncos. Patrick Lamontagne image

We know.

We know that the hockey community and so many others, not just from Canada, but from around the world have come together for the team, the community and the families of those who are bereaved. The GoFundMe campaign that was started the day after the crash took off and has raised more than $10 million for the families.

One donation in particular came from Germany, the Nurnberg Ice Tigers of the German Elite League, who donated 10,000 Euros ($15,560) of their game revenues on April 8 to support the Broncos’ youth hockey programs. Just one of many teams, businesses and people that have done something to help with the healing.

We know it’s gone beyond the hockey world with teams from Major League Baseball, the Canadian Football League and Major League Soccer all tweeting messages of condolence. There was even a tweet from U.S. President Donald Trump and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II released an official statement from Buckingham Palace. It has literally touched everyone.

We know there have been memorials of all sorts, all with their own meanings. One such movement started thanks to TSN’s Brian Munz, who got a tweet from a friend of his who used to play in Humboldt. It was an image of a hockey stick out on the front porch with the following:
“Leaving it out on the porch tonight. The boys might need it…wherever they are.”
Sticks began popping up on porches almost immediately around the world, offering up a stick to anyone from Humboldt who needed one. There were even headsets and microphones for Tyler Bieber, the team’s play-by-play man, who was one of the 16 who perished.

There’s even a drawing which has made its way around social media showing the fallen Broncos in Heaven asking Jonathan Pitre if he wants to play with them. Pitre, who became known as the Butterfly Boy, died on April 4 after suffering from a rare skin disease known as epidermolysis bullosa, which made his skin so sensitive that he couldn’t even scratch an itch without tearing his skin.

If you needed any more proof that hockey community is a tight one, look no further.

We know that the families of those who died will begin the heart-wrenching task of saying goodbye to their loved ones. We all know the pain of losing a loved one because after all, life is finite. But I can’t even pretend to imagine what it will be like for those parents who have to bury their children because it’s supposed to be the other way around. As the father of two girls, I don’t know what I would do if I ever had to go through that. All I know is that those families will need every single support mechanism now and forever.

We know those who survived will need just as much support. The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League did a good thing on April 9 when it announced the start of an assistance program to help the Humboldt Broncos and the 11 other teams in the league with mental health programming, counselling and grieving. Everyone in the league will no doubt take advantage of it and they should because this won’t be anything anyone will get over in just a day.

We know these players travelled by bus so many times to so many games, just like so many other teams that travel by bus so many times to so many games. I’ve done it and I was lucky to come home safe every single time. Many others have as well. Dreams have been chased on those buses and the players on that Broncos bus were chasing theirs – professional hockey, scholarships, you name it.

If you’ve ever travelled on a bus to go to a sporting event with your team, you know that’s where friendships are struck, bonds are forged and memories are made. There are funny stories, wild stories, even stories you can’t tell because they’re NSFW. It’s all a part of the culture of the “iron lung” trips, as they’re known and it’s all a part of growing up.

Parents who put their kids on a bus for a long road trip always have that what-if mechanism about them. All parents have it because that’s what parents do – they’re always thinking to themselves what if? To put it into a Northern perspective, plenty of students make the trip into Hay River for the NWT Track and Field Championships every June. Some teams have long bus rides from Yellowknife, Behchoko, Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, just to name a few. I don’t doubt those parents who hug their kids before those buses leave aren’t squeezing a little tighter.

In reading all of the comments people have made about this, one stuck out to me as perhaps the most poignant. It was from Steve Hogle, president of the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League. He made the trip to Humboldt to give whatever support he could and offered up this thought when speaking with the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix:

“It could have been any team, in any league, on any given day, that came into this catastrophe. In the same breath, it could be any school band heading off to a trip. It hits the hockey community hard, but it’s bigger than the game.”

Any team, in any league, on any given day. He’s absolutely right. And it has happened to other teams. Everyone’s first thought after this happened turned to the Swift Current Broncos and the bus crash in 1986 that killed four of its players. There was the van crash in Bathurst, N.B., that killed eight people from Bathurst High School returning home from a game in 2008. Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League lost its entire team in a plane crash in 2011.

All of those teams rebuilt but never forgot. The Broncos have begun the healing process and they will rebuild but they won’t ever forget. No one will forget because people will make sure we never forget. We know the names now and we won’t ever forget those names.

May those who perished rest well. May those who survived heal and thrive. May the town of Humboldt continue to support its hockey team because they will come back strong. And may anyone affected by this in any way know that they will never walk the road to recovery alone.

#HumboldtStrong

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