Windsor hockey community reacts to Humboldt Broncos tragedy
The hockey world is reeling today after a fatal bus collision that killed 15 passengers on the Humboldt Broncos Junior hockey team bus on Friday.
Since then, the small town in Saskatchewan has become a scene of mourning, support, and strength.
Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench, wearing a green and yellow team Broncos jersey, hugged people Saturday morning as they came to the Elger Petersen Arena in the eastern Saskatchewan town to comfort each other and learn more about the crash, which took place early Friday evening northeast of their community.
“It has hit us hard,” said Muench. “We are a small community by most standards but the hockey team has always been a big part of our community.”
The crash killed Broncos head coach Darcy Haugan, team captain Logan Schatz and the team's play-by-play radio announcer Tyler Bieber. The names of others killed have not been confirmed.
The team, in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, was on its way to play in Game 5 of a semi-final playoff game against the Nipawin Hawks.
Darren Opp, president of the Hawks, said a semi T-boned the players' bus.
The hockey community across Canada is still in shock – including in Windsor, where former players and local coaches are in disbelief over the incident.
"The fans, everyone, the community, they have such a passion for the game and they truly love and embrace the players that come in, and they treat you as family,” said former Broncos forward Justin Buzzeo, who played for the team between 2009 and 2011. “You turn into a family. You turn into a Bronco forever.”
“I can't imagine what they're going through and it's sad, it's really sad."
Buzzeo, who now plays hockey in Germany, says the team bus was a place for players to bond.
“You go on the bus multiple times not thinking of anything like this and hope that it never happens,” Buzzeo said. “There were some lives lost last night and you pray for those families and everyone affected."
The crash has cruel echoes of 1986, when the Swift Current Broncos team bus crash slid off an icy highway and crashed in late December, killing four players.
Windsor Spitfires General Manager Warren Rychel said that’s where his mind immediately went when he heard about the crash.
"Hearts go out to all of the parents and all the kids and the kids on board,” said Rychel. “It's scary. I know we take things for granted just getting on the road, but it's really bad."
AM800 Radio’s Steve Bell spent many years traveling on the team bus and admitted there were a few close calls.
"You just take it for granted. The spits, other teams, you jump on the bus and head out on a road trip and all is fun and it can be taken away in a heartbeat,” said Bell. “It’s a really sad day for junior hockey and the entire country."
The Broncos were to hold a news conference Saturday afternoon to update the tragedy.
The family of Ryan Straschnitzki confirmed the 18-year-old player survived but broke his back and can't feel his lower extremities.
Kelly Schatz, Logan's father, said his 20-year-old son played for the Broncos for just over four years and had served as team captain for the past two-and-a-half years.
He says the family is seeking solace in one another.
“It's hard,” Kelly Schatz said. “I've got four other kids and they're here, which is nice.”
Haugan's wife, Christina George-Haugan, confirmed his death to The Canadian Press. Tributes poured in online for father of two young sons who was described as an amazing mentor to players.
“He will always be a great man in our hearts,” his sister posted on Twitter under the name Debbie Jayne. “The tears just keep coming.”
Steven Wilson, a play-by-play announcer in Weyburn, Sask., called Haugan “the classiest guy” in the league.
RCMP said initially that 28 people were on the bus and 14 were injured. Later Saturday, RCMP said 29 people were on the bus and 15 were sent to hospital. Three were in critical condition.
Hassan Masri, an emergency room doctor at Saskatoon's Royal University Hospital, said a “code orange” was called signaling massive casualties.
“The images and the injuries that I saw yesterday, really that's what they reminded me of, when there was an airstrike and a massive number of people would be coming in at the same time in horrible shape,” said Masri, who has done work in war-torn Syria.
Masri said it was emotional given Saskatchewan communities are knit together by hockey.
“A lot of people have kids that play on hockey teams that travel from town to town,” he said. “This was either personal because you knew someone or personal because you could really relate to it.”
Hockey teams and players from leagues across North America tweeted messages of support, many with the hashtag #prayersforhumboldt.
In Toronto, Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock, who grew up in Saskatoon, fought his emotions as he discussed the crash.
“I can't even imagine being the parent, or the wife, or the kids at home, going through something like this,” said Babcock. “It's gotta rip the heart out of your chest. We pray for those families and we're thinking about them.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country is in shock and mourning.
“We are heartbroken knowing many of those we lost had their entire lives in front of them,” he said in a statement Saturday. “We grieve with those facing news no parent or family should ever have to face.
“This is every parent's worst nightmare. No one should ever have to see their child leave to play the sport they love and never come back.”
U.S. President Donald Trump also expressed condolences on Twitter.
“Just spoke to JustinTrudeau to pay my highest respect and condolences to the families of the terrible Humboldt Team tragedy. May God be with them all!”
Broncos president Kevin Garinger says the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team includes players from Edmonton, Slave Lake and Airdrie in Alberta and from Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Garinger said the Broncos are a close-knit team from the small city of about 6,000 people 110 kilometres east of Saskatoon.
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League is a Junior 'A' hockey league under Hockey Canada, which is part of the Canadian Junior Hockey League. It's open to North American-born players between the age of 16 and 20.
With files from the Canadian Press