Scrolling through Facebook the other day, an update popped up that shook me as a hockey fan: the Humboldt Broncos announced the sales of their 2018-2019 season tickets.
For those who don’t recognize what that means right away, here’s a little recap and context. On April 6, 2018, so about four and a half months ago, the bus of Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team the Humboldt Broncos was in a deadly crash. Colliding with a tractor-trailer, the crash killed 16 of the 29 people on the Humboldt bus. The other 13 suffered a range of injuries. The tractor-trailer driver survived.
This included the head coach, assistant coach, athletic trainer, team statistician, play-by-play announcer, bus driver, and ten players. The youngest player to lose his life was just 16-years-old.
The tragedy rocked the larger hockey playing community to the core. We all cherished our long road games with our teammates, remembered the hours in cars and buses until arriving at the next rink. This crash was a shock. Condolences poured from all over the world. The hashtag #HumboldtStrong covered social media, trickling all the way up the NHL. Often, it was accompanied with sticks set outside or in front of the locker room in memoriam and a second hashtag #SticksforHumboldt. My father texted me a photo of some of my own sticks outside of the house. We were one of many.
The hockey community at large grieved and supported in whatever way possible. A GoFundMe page was set up and raised over $15 million in under two weeks for the survivors’ healthcare, victims’ families, legal fees against the truck driver, and more. Survivors were invited as guests by NHL players from the Saskatchewan province and the greater NHL commiunity to attend games throughout the remaining season. Late-Head Coach Darcy Haugan posthumously won the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award from the NHL. But mostly, the community and families tried to heal.
So what’s happening now?
As of August 7th, season tickets were able to renew for last year’s season ticket holders. On August 9th, they became available to general public.
In the past few months, the Humboldt Broncos have been rebuilding. They announced in May that the Broncos would still be in the league this coming season and they have set to work fulfilling that promise. A new coaching staff has been hired, led Nathan Ostryick, a former Junior A defenseman who made it to the NHL. They’ve been active in the draft and put their foundation back in place. For a Junior team in a small community, the ability to rally and still play in the next season after such a devastating tragedy is a testament to the strength of the Humboldt squad. They are behind the timetable they had originally announced but that doesn’t matter. The season is happening and many will be in the stands cheering them on.
The surviving players have been coping with life after the tragedy. On August 8th, Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail ran a video of Ryan Straschnitzki, a player who was permanently paralyzed in the accident. The video shows Straschnitzki on the ice again after the accident, learning and adapting to the sport of sledge hockey. I’ve included the link here. He can’t stay off the ice and is learning how to be there in his new life. circumstances.
Assistant Captain Kaleb Dahlgren and Nick Shumlanski have both committed to university teams in the last few months. Shumlanski will be joining the U.P.E.I Panthers. He has recovered from a shoulder injury and a chipped vertebra to make it back on the ice. Dahlgren will be attending York University. Dahlgren suffered extensive spinal injuries. All in all, he has six broken vertebrae, a fractured skull, puncture wound to his head and an extensive brain injury. He is the 3 to 5% of people who make a full recovery and has worked extensively and visibly to get back on the ice. His university of choice? The alma mater of Marc Cross, his late assistant coach.
Smaller stories have included 19-year-old Graysen Cameron, unable to play safely again with the specific vertebrae injury, turning to coaching. Derek Patter has been rehabbing slowly, putting updates on his personal twitter. Matthieu Gomercic and Bryce Fiske have committed to the same college together, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Ultimately, life goes on. And so does hockey.
In regards to the community, I’ll leave you with a post from the Facebook page for Pure Hockey. I can’t verify where it hangs. But the survivors, the team, and their resilience are the sentiment personified.