Broncos remembered as SJHL playoffs resume

By Tyler Marr
April 15, 2018 - 8:27am Updated: April 16, 2018 - 6:17am

Hockey can be a healing game. That was clear Saturday night.

Though healing may have started for Kaelan Holt last week, it was amplified when his team stopped by the collision site of the Humboldt Broncos bus Friday evening en route to play in Nipawin.

“You’ve seen a whole bunch of stuff on the news but to actually see where it happened, the whole vibe there, it helped a lot guys with closure,” the Estevan Bruins centre said after Game 1 of the SJHL finals.

His team skated to a 5 - 2 victory over the Nipawin Hawks, but it was far from a typical win. 

The game came in the wake of last Friday’s collision, when the bus carrying the Broncos, who were heading to Nipawin for their own playoff game, collided with a semi about 30 kilometres south of the town. 

There was 29 players and staff on board. Sixteen have died as a result and thirteen others were injured.

For Hawks head coach Doug Johnson, the past week was filled with peaks and valleys of emotion.

“You think you’re getting better Thursday and then you get a call from one of the victims’ fathers,” he said. “It was just a roller coaster, and for the young guys probably more so, because they’ve never experienced anything like this.”

The remainder of SJHL season was in limbo until Wednesday, after a unanimous vote from the league’s board of governors was made to resume the season. This, of course, came with the Broncos’ blessing.

“It is good for these two teams that they can finish the season and not move on, but take a step forward,” SJHL President Bill Chow said. 

Bruins head coach Chris Lewgood agreed, and said stopping by the crash site was “the first step for a lot of the guys towards closure.”

“It’s been a really emotional time for everybody. Some more than others,” he added.

Despite having to board a bus to get to Nipawin, Lewgood said anyone who has ever been on a team bus, regardless of the sport, would know it “is an awesome place to be.”

“Travelling on the bus on off-days, whether it be the day before or day after, especially if it’s a win, are some of the best days you spend in junior hockey,” he said. “Our guys, and us as coaches, we cherish that time together. That's where a lot of the bonds are built.”

The Centennial Arena was a sea of gold and black, sprinkled with pops of green. If patrons were not wearing Broncos’ jerseys outright, a green and gold ribbon was pinned above their heart. Many Hawks and Bruins jerseys, in place of a player's last name, instead read Broncos. T-shirts with #SaskStrong were on sale in the lobby with $5 from the funds being donated to the Broncos. The game's 50/50 and cotton candy sales were also set to be donated to Humboldt head coach Darcy Haugan's family. On the ice, the Hawks wore green helmets which will be donated to the Broncos next season. Ribbons reading 'Humboldt Strong' were also sewn onto jerseys.

The outpouring of support from the community and nation was unsurprising and important for the players in the eyes of Premier Scott Moe.

“I think it is important for everyone to be here so that they know that they are not alone in that dressing room,” Moe said. “We are at heart, but one small community here in the province of Saskatchewan and we are always there to help one another.

“And to see [the players] step up and get back to doing what they love and what they do best is, I think, we can draw strength from that.”

Before the game, it was business as usual inside the rink. Patrons spilt into the lobby and stopped to chat with friends. Players were spread about, individually entering into pregame routines. Some kicked around a ball on an upper deck while others lunged throughout "The Cage" with headphones on. Volunteers laughed and were already hedging their bets on the night.

Before faceoff, a small ceremony was held to honour those impacted by the tragedy. First responders and emergency personnel who tended to the scene just eight days ago were recognized with a roar of horns, cheers and applause. Players then formed a circle at centre ice and joined in a moment of silence, only broken by an occasional weep.

“It is okay to smile and cheer and feel normal again,” the announcer said in front of over 1,200 fans crammed into the arena.

With that, normalcy slowly returned.

The Hawks opened the scoring on a power-play goal from Prince Albert’s Josh McDougall. The Bruins’ quickly responded from veteran forward Holt to tie the game. Nipawin got on the board first in the middle frame thanks to Jordan Simoneau. Estevan would resound late in the second with two goals from Jayden Davis and Arthur Miller, respectively.

A 3-2 game entering the third brought out an exciting atmosphere and roars of ‘Go Hawks Go’ from the hometown crowd as they tried to close the gap. But with just under two minutes remaining, Michel McChesney and Zach Goberis would find the back of an empty net to seal it at 5 -2.

Though Johnson jokingly said returning to the ice would have been “a lot better if we would have won,” said once the puck dropped, felt, "it was pretty good.”

“Obviously, we are still going to be grieving. We’re still going to be thinking of Humboldt, but now we’re in a seven-game series. Now, we’re down one game. Now, guys are upset that we let one slip by.”

Lewgood was simple is his comments after the game: “I would say that’s the biggest game we’ve ever played in the SJHL.”

Game 2 goes Sunday night in Nipawin at 7:30 p.m. The winner of the final goes on to the Anavet Cup where they will face the Manitoba league champion. The winner of that will go on to the Royal Bank Cup in Chilliwack, B.C., in May.

— With files from Nathan Kanter

 

[email protected]

On Twitter: @JournoMarr

Hawks even the score in Canalta Cup Final

Join the Discussion

We are happy to provide a forum for commenting and discussion. Please respect and abide by the house rules: Keep it clean, keep it civil, keep it truthful, stay on topic, be responsible, share your knowledge, and please suggest removal of comments that violate these standards. See full commenting rules.