Tue, Apr 10, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Hockey team’s crash leaves town broken

HEART OF THE COMMUNITY:Junior League ice hockey is an important force in Humboldt, a town of 6,000 residents, where many host players and the arena is the center of local life

AP, HUMBOLDT, Saskatchewan

Mourners comfort each other during a vigil at the Elgar Petersen Arena, home of the Humboldt Broncos, to honor the victims of a fatal bus accident in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

This shattered town in Saskatchewan, Canada, mourned its revered local youth hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos, trying to come to grips with a devastating highway accident that killed 15 players and team personnel and injured the other 14 people on their bus.

People on Sunday night filed into the team’s home arena for a vigil, filing up entry steps piled with flowers, jerseys and personal mementos in a makeshift memorial.

At the vigil, local pastor and team chaplain Sean Brandow described how he on Friday night happened upon the horrific accident scene and heard sounds of people he knew dying after a semi-trailer slammed into the bus taking the team to a playoff game.

“We traveled up and arrived at the scene ... and walked up on a scene I never want to see again, to sounds I never want to hear again,” Brandow said.

The small town’s disaster was also a blow for Canada and its national sport. Among the dead were Broncos head coach Darcy Haugan, team captain Logan Schatz and radio announcer Tyler Bieber.

Brandow was on his way to the Broncos game and arrived at the scene right after the collision, he said, describing hearing the cries and holding the hand of a lifeless body.

“To sit and hold the hand of a lifeless body,” he said. “All I saw was darkness and hurt, and anguish and fear, and confusion. And I had nothing. Nothing. I’m a pastor, I’m supposed to have something.”

The driver of the truck that hit the bus was initially detained, but later released and provided with mental health assistance, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.

Police have given no cause for the wreck, saying that a lot of issues remained to be investigated, including weather conditions at the time and any mechanical issues with the vehicles.

Broncos team president Kevin Garinger choked back tears as he read out the names of the 15 dead to those at the vigil. People embraced each other, crying. Boxes of tissues were passed down rows. Flowers ringed the team logo at center ice. Pictures of the dead and injured stood in front of the audience.

Nick Shumlanski, an injured player who was released from hospital, attended the vigil wearing his white, green and yellow team jersey, with a bruise under his left eye.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday visited the injured at the hospital and then attended the vigil. He sat among the crowd with his 11-year-old son, Xavier, who is a hockey player.

On the arena’s front steps, one tribute included a Kraft macaroni and cheese dinner box, which was a favorite meal of Evan Thomas, a forward who died in the crash. A bouquet of pink roses adorned the box, which read: “To Evan, game day special, love your billet brother and sister Colten and Shelby.”

Most of the players were from elsewhere in western Canada and lived with families in Humboldt, a town of about 6,000 people. Families who provide homes for players are a large part of junior hockey in Canada, with players spending years with host families.

Dennis Locke, his wife and three young children came to the arena to hang posters of forward Jaxon Joseph, who was the son of former National Hockey League player Chris Joseph. The Locke family hosted Joseph and treated him like a son.

“Best person ever,” Locke said. “Down to earth, loved playing with the kids.”

His wife wiped away tears from swollen eyes.

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