AP Images

Canada town’s arena focus of mourning after crash kills 15

4 Comments

HUMBOLDT, Saskatchewan (AP) — The people of this small town grieved at their hockey arena Sunday, laying flowers and jerseys in a makeshift memorial at the entrance and later gathering inside to mourn the deaths of 15 people when a semi-trailer slammed into the bus carrying the local youth hockey team.

The 14 others on the bus were injured, some critically, in Friday night’s collision, which has Canada, its national sport and the hockey-obsessed town of Humboldt reeling. Among the dead are Broncos head coach Darcy Haugan, team captain Logan Schatz and radio announcer Tyler Bieber.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the injured at the hospital Sunday and then attended the vigil held in the town’s arena Sunday night. Trudeau sat among the crowd with his 11-year-old son, Xavier, a hockey player

Team President Kevin Garinger choked back tears as he read out the names of the 15 dead. People embraced each other, crying. Boxes of Kleenex were passed down rows.

Behind them, flowers ringed the team logo at center ice. In front of them, there were pictures of the dead and injured.

Humboldt pastor Sean Brandow, the team chaplain, said he was on his way to the Broncos game Friday and arrived at the scene right after the collision. He described hearing the cries and holding the hand of a lifeless body.

”I walked up and saw a scene I never want to see again, heard sounds I never want to hear again,” Brandow said.

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

Residents of this town of less than 6,000 people earlier left flowers, jerseys and personal tributes on the steps of the arena’s entrance. One tribute included a Kraft macaroni and cheese dinner box, which was a favorite meal of deceased forward Evan Thomas. A bouquet of pink roses adorned the box, which read: ”to Evan, game day special, love your billet brother and sister Colten and Shelby.”

While most of the players were from elsewhere in western Canada, they were put up by families in the small town of Humboldt. Billeting families are a large part of junior hockey, 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 NHL 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.

Forwards Jacob Leicht, Logan Hunter and Conner Lukan and defensemen Stephen Wack, Adam Herold, Logan Boulet and Xavier Labelle were also among the dead, according to family members and others. Assistant coach Mark Cross, bus driver Glen Doerksen and stats keeper Brody Hinz, who was 18, were also killed.

Herold, who would have turned 17 Thursday, played for the Regina Pat Canadians hockey team until just weeks ago, but was sent to join the Broncos for their playoff round when the Pat Canadians’ season wrapped up, said John Smith, the Pat Canadians’ manager.

As the names of the dead emerge, ”it’s getting harder and harder,” Humboldt Mayor�Rob Muench said. ”This is going to be a long haul for us.”

Norman Mattock, a longtime season ticket holder, said his neighbor housed player Morgan Gobeil. The defenseman was severely injured and remains in serious but stable condition, Mattock said.

He said players become part of the community fabric, doing volunteer work or serving in restaurants. Three players who stayed with the same family all died in the crash, he added.

”They lost them all,” Mattock said.

The Broncos were a close-knit team who dyed their hair blond for the playoffs. The bus was driving the team to a crucial playoff game Friday against the Nipawin Hawks. Garinger said the team will continue next year and won’t disband.

The home page of the team’s website was replaced with a silhouette of a man praying beneath the Broncos’ logo of a mustang.

The pews were full Sunday at St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in Humboldt, where the Rev. Joseph Salish told parishioners that if they felt like crying, they should cry.

Between Masses, streams of people – many of them red-eyed from crying – hugged each other.

”We’re devastated,” said hockey club Vice President Randolph MacLEAN. ”At the center of this, we have 15 souls who’ll never go home again. We have 29 lives that will never be the same.”

MacLEAN said the community comes together at the arena on game nights that draw 800 to 1,000 people to the stands.

”It’s an energy that spreads through the town with road signs saying ‘Game tonight,’ tickets for sale everywhere,” he said.

As is the case with small town hockey across Canada, he said, the arena is not just a recreation facility, but a focus of community life with the hockey team at its center.

With players staying with local families, working in city businesses and attending local schools, the tragedy touches every corner of Humboldt, MacLEAN said.

Canadian police said the truck driver, who was not hurt, was initially detained but later released and provided with mental health assistance. Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said it was too early to state a cause for the crash. Police have not said whether or not the driver was impaired.

Photographs of the wreckage showed the twisted trailer with most of its wheels in the air and the bus on its side with a portion destroyed. The force of the crash sent both vehicles into the ditch at the northwest corner of the intersection.

Police said a lot of issues remained to be investigated in the bus crash, including weather conditions at the time and any mechanical issues with the vehicles.

Associated Press writer Jeremy Hainsworth reported this story in Humboldt and AP writer Rob Gillies reported from Toronto.

The Buzzer: Ovechkin is clutch

Getty
Leave a comment

Two games on Thursday

Bruins 3, Maple Leafs 1 (Bruins lead series 3-1)

The Boston Bruins continue to show that they can survive – if not thrive – with key players out of the lineup. They don’t get much more “key” than Patrice Bergeron, who was unable to suit up for Game 4. Even so, Tuukka Rask made some crucial saves and the Bruins connected on two 2-on-1 rushes to snag a 3-1 series lead. The Maple Leafs must grapple with a lot of uncomfortable questions as they see their season slip to the brink of elimination.

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 1 (Series tied 2-2)

This game was all about patterns continuing, or breaking.

Continuing: The road team winning. The away team has won all four contests during this series, so this one returns to Washington with the two teams now tied up 2-2. It’s also another instance of Alex Ovechkin being sneaky-clutch, although many people will disagree because of team results. Washington’s starting to pull away in terms of puck possession during the series, and that continued on Thursday, too.

Breaking: For the first time in the series, the game ended in regulation. It wasn’t all that close, either, as the Caps won 4-1 and were safe even considering one empty-netter.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins – There will be talk of Bergeron, Auston Matthews not being able to score, Mike Babcock’s decisions, and other factors from Game 4. Rask helped to push those discussions to the forefront – rather than talk about which team has the edge if they ended up tied – as he was sharp on Thursday. Rask stopped 31 out of 32 shots, factoring heavily in Boston building a 3-1 series lead against Toronto.

2. Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals – After scoring two goals in Game 1, Kuznetsov had been held silent by the Bruins in Games 2 and 3. The Russian center made up for lost time in Game 4, scoring an empty-netter and two assists in that 4-1 win. Both of his assists were primary helpers, while he checked many other boxes by winning more than half of his draws (10 of 18), generating a +3 rating, and firing four shots on goal.

3. Alex Ovechkin, Capitals – Ovechkin fired a shot on Sergei Bobrovsky, which created a rebound opportunity for T.J. Oshie during a Washington power play, a goal that ended up being the game-winner. Ovechkin also scored from the right face-off circle for an important insurance goal. Ovechkin fired five SOG and was a +1 in Game 4.

Factoids

There’s plenty of focus on Bergeron being out and Marchand scoring/agitating, but don’t forget about David Pastrnak‘s brilliance.

Again, Alex Ovechkin is more clutch than people realize. By scoring the 49th playoff goal of his career, Ovechkin tied Henri Richard for 60th in NHL history. You may remember Henri as a) Maurice Richard’s brother and b) the guy who won the Stanley Cup 11 times.

Friday’s games

Philadelphia Flyers at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Minnesota Wild at Winnipeg Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET, USA Network
Colorado Avalanche at Nashville Predators, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Capitals tie series with Blue Jackets

3 Comments

In Game 4, the Washington Capitals showed their heart by not working overtime.

The Capitals dropped both of their home games to start their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening the floodgates for people to dust off their favorite, cruel jokes about this team. They’ll return home with those one-liners drying up, though.

After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Capitals flipped the script to tie it up 2-2 after beating the Blue Jackets both times in Columbus. The symmetry wasn’t complete, however; while Washington continued the series trend of overtime nail-biters by winning beyond regulation in Game 3, they made no mistake about winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This wasn’t a case where the Bruins got the bounces and the finishes to win. The Capitals have shown signs of dominance even in defeats during this series, but they really smothered the Blue Jackets in Game 4.

The Capitals generated a 33-24 shots on goal edge, won about two-thirds of the faceoffs, and generally carried the play by every metric.

Tom Wilson making it 1-0 was valuable, and jokes about blown 2-0 leads aside, T.J. Oshie‘s eventual game-winner was important during the second period. Alex Ovechkin‘s goal from his opposite office widened the gap too much for an overmatched Blue Jackets team, even with Boone Jenner scoring and giving Columbus a brief boost.

With a goal and an assist in Game 4, this is yet another reminder that Ovechkin is a playoff performer, even if his team isn’t always there with him. After Washington went down 2-0 against Columbus, Ovechkin said “it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and tie the series,” and that’s exactly the situation Washington is in after … whatever the opposite of “holding serve” is.

Of course, people will quickly forget this triumph-within-the-series if the Capitals ultimately bow out of the first round, anyway.

The Caps must feel really good about their collective play as they aim to become the first team to win at home in this series in Game 5. Their power play has been productive, playing tight defense, getting scoring from Ovechkin/others, and Braden Holtby looks poised in regaining his usual spot in net. It’s the sort of stretch that changes the Capitals’ narrative from “here we go again” to “could this be the year we finally make a run?”

With this series now essentially becoming a best two-out-of-three clash, the disposition could easily go from sunny back to gloomy, but give this beleaguered group credit for keeping cool heads and making this anyone’s game once again.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins push Leafs to brink

8 Comments

The Boston Bruins found themselves on the wrong end of plenty of stats in Game 4, but even with Patrice Bergeron on the shelf, they won 3-1 to push the Toronto Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination.

Boston took a 3-1 series lead with tonight’s win despite Toronto generating a 32-21 shots on goal advantage, hogging the puck, and holding home-ice advantage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Goaltending was one big area of advantage for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask was forced to make some tough saves as Mitch Marner and other Leafs players created plenty of chances. One cannot help but wonder if fatigue is a bit of a factor for workhorse Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, as he’d likely love to have this Torey Krug goal back:

That early 1-0 lead provided a cushion for the Bruins to adjust to life without Bergeron (again), although Tomas Plekanec did tie things up. Ultimately, the Bruins were able to cash in on two 2-on-1 rushes, with Brad Marchand burying a tremendous setup by David Pastrnak for the game-winner and Jake DeBrusk finding the net after a great feed by David Krejci (who has absorbed some criticism for his play lately).

The two goals were remarkably similar in exhibiting the Bruins’ smarts and finish, along with the Maple Leafs lacking in a few areas on defense, as Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak were exposed (among others). Here’s that Marchang GWG:

Game 5 shifts back to Boston on Saturday. You can watch that game on CNBC, with puck drop slated for 8 p.m. ET.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins without Bergeron vs. Leafs in Game 4

1 Comment

The Boston Bruins rolled through much of the regular season despite injuries, even to key players like Patrice Bergeron. The fact that they’re unfortunately experienced playing without Bergeron is probably the only silver lining regarding his late scratch heading into Game 4.

The Bruins announced that Bergeron is day-to-day with what they’re deeming an upper-body injury, so Riley Nash slips into Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This stands as an obvious opportunity for Auston Matthews to roam more freely against the Bruins and a chance for the Maple Leafs to tie this series in front of their home fans.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty makes a good point that Bergeron missing Game 4 is especially troubling since the Bruins played Game 3 on Monday, gaining an extra off day between contests.

Bergeron generated five assists through the first three games of this series, including four helpers in Game 2. He was limited to 64 regular-season games in 2017-18, falling just short of a point-per-game with 63. Naturally, his all-around game goes beyond goals and assists, so this hurts badly for the Bruins, whether they had some experience playing without him or not.

As of this writing, the two teams are tied up 1-1. Click here for the livestream link.

This news comes not that long after news surfaced that Bergeron’s once again been named a finalist for the Selke.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.