AP

Parents of Humboldt victims put focus on mandatory seatbelts

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AIRDRIE, Alberta (AP) — Michelle Straschnitzki had a moment of panic when her 16-year-old son, Jett, was preparing to board a team bus for a recent hockey game.

”I didn’t watch him go get on the bus, but the part that choked me up was when I gave him a hug and said, ‘Good luck. Have a great game.’ Then I had a moment of panic,” she said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. ”My heart stopped. He was actually leaving and going on the bus.”

It was just six months since her older son was seriously injured in a deadly crash involving the Humboldt Broncos. Ryan Straschnitzki, 19, was paralyzed from the chest down in the collision between his Saskatchewan junior hockey team’s bus and a semi-trailer in April at a highway crossing in rural Saskatchewan. Sixteen people died and 13 others were injured.

Straschnitzki and her husband have added their voices to those of other Broncos parents who want buses equipped with seat and shoulder belts.

Tom Straschnitzki contacted the Airdrie Minor Hockey Association when he discovered buses carrying players, including his younger son, didn’t have seatbelts because it isn’t yet mandatory. He said the association immediately made changes to ensure buses with seatbelts are used.

He said watching another child head off to a hockey game was harder on him and his wife than it was on their son, who did not want to be taken by his parents.

”Jett goes, ‘Well, the accident was six months ago, Dad,”’ said Straschnitzki. ”As soon as he got on there, he took a picture of his seatbelt and sent it to us. He said he wasn’t taking it off until the bus stopped.”

Ryan Straschnitzki has continued his rehabilitation. After a two-hour workout, he said having his younger brother board a team bus for hockey brought back memories of the crash.

”I think it should be enforced that you wear your seatbelts,” he said. ”If a bus doesn’t have one, then I’m not sure it should be on the road.”

The injured player said he isn’t sure seatbelts on the Humboldt bus would have made a difference, but it’s worth having them.

”If there’s a one-in-a-million chance of this ever happening, just to be safe, I’d wear it,” he said. ”If a tragedy like this doesn’t sink in, then we’re not doing anything good.”

Transport Canada announced in June that the department will require all newly built highway buses to have seatbelts by September 2020. Some charter bus companies say many new vehicles already have seatbelts, although there is no way to ensure passengers are wearing them.

Russell Herold’s son, Adam, was the youngest Humboldt player killed in the crash, less than a week before his 17th birthday. He told CBC earlier this year he never considered wearing a seatbelt on a team bus until the day he lost his son.

”You can still have fun, you can still be a group, you can still have that atmosphere, but you can have a seatbelt on,” he said.

Humboldt Broncos return to ice 5 months after bus crash

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HUMBOLDT, Saskatchewan (AP) — Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter were back on the ice for the Humboldt Broncos on Wednesday night in the team’s first game since 10 teammates and six other people were killed in a bus crash.

Camrud and Patter are the only survivors back with the junior hockey team. In a game televised commercial-free in Canada and the United States, the Broncos lost 2-1 to the Nipawin Hawks, the team they were travelling to face the night of the April crash with a tractor-trailer.

”We know that, while the darkness is much less, it will never truly leave us as it holds the love that we have left for those who are no longer with us and those who have been impacted by this tragedy,” former Broncos president Kevin Garinger said. ”But we will forever cherish their memories and honor their legacy and, as hard as it has been, we have and will continue to move forward with them and because of them.”

Michael Clark opened the scoring for the Broncos early in the second period during a 5-and-3 power play, with Camrud earning an assist. Nipawin’s Cole Beamin and Jeremy Bisson scored in a 3:29 span late in the period. The teams will meet again Friday night in Nipawin.

”In the wake of this tragedy, Humboldt has shown incredible resilience and strength,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a Liberal caucus meeting in Saskatoon. ”Canadians were quick to share their love, support, generosity and kindness in a moment when it was so desperately needed. So to the people of Humboldt, know that we are with you. Know that we will continue to support you as you heal.”

Camrud overcame a severe concussion, loss of feeling in one of his arms and neck issues to make it back on the ice. He and Patter shared a brief hug after they skated on the ice. They took part in a ceremonial puck drop with other crash survivors, with goalie Jacob Wassermann using a wheelchair to get on the ice.

”I think it’s a step in the healing process for sure,” said survivor Kaleb Dahlgren, who is now playing college hockey in Ontario. ”Playing tonight definitely helps heal the wounds but it won’t for sure heal everything. There’s still lots that need to be done.”

The entrance to the Elgar Petersen Arena was lined with pictures of the people who died in the crash. Sixteen hockey sticks adorned with green and yellow ribbons were lined up outside, near a green bench with the words ”Always in our hearts. 29 on the fateful ride, 16 souls died.” Late coach Darcy Haugan’s saying of ”It’s a great day to be a Bronco, gentlemen.” is inscribed outside the dressing room.

”We’re going to find out what our new normal is after today,” team president Jamie Brockman said. ”Hockey is back in Humboldt. We are strong and we are going to survive and we are going to move forward.”

Ryan Straschnitzki, the former Humboldt player paralyzed from the chest down in the crash, decided not to watch the season opener in person and wasn’t even sure he wanted to watch on TV.

”It’s not my team anymore,” Straschnitzki said. ”I wish them the best of luck but it’s not my team and it’s going to be hard to watch knowing that I should be out there.”

Humboldt Broncos ready for emotional return to the ice

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New season. New head coach. New players. But the memories from last season will never be replaced.

Wednesday night, inside a sold out Elgar Petersen Arena, the Humboldt Broncos will be playing hockey again in what should be an emotional scene.

It was the night of April 6 that 16 people, including 10 players, were killed and 13 others injured in a bus crash as the team was traveling to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League game in Nipawin, Saskatchewan. The summer was spent healing and rebuilding. Despite the tragic loss, the team was determined to play again to help the community of Humboldt.

Among the dead was Broncos head coach Darcy Haugan, who’d been behind the bench since 2015. During the NHL Awards in June, he was honored as the first recipient of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, which is awarded to “to an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.” 

Ten members of the Broncos reunited on stage in Las Vegas, along with Haugan’s wife, Christina, to accept the award.

Replacing Haugan behind the bench is former NHLer Nathan Oystrick.

“I’ve said it time and time again: I’ll never be Darcy Haugan. I’m not trying to be Darcy Haugan. I’m trying to be myself,” Oystrick recently told the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. “For the people that knew him, they loved him to death. But I’m trying to bring my own elements, my own thoughts and ideas. I’m not trying to take his spot, that’s for sure. There are things, obviously, from his core covenant, that I believe as well: that’s relationships and respect … But at the same time I’m just trying to be myself and coach the way I coach and do the best I can.”

As the Broncos prepare to take the ice for their season opener, their hearts and minds will be on those lost on April 6 as well as Layne Matechuk and Morgan Gobeil, two players who remain hospitalized as they recover from traumatic brain injuries. Gobeil’s family released a statement on Monday saying that he’ll remain in hospital for a few more months with a long road of recovery ahead.

The hockey world rallied around Humboldt and the team following the crash. A GoFundMe campaign raised over $15 million and total donations reached $20 million. (According to TSN Frank Seravalli, it’s still being determined how to disperse the money, which will go only to the 29 families who had someone traveling on the bus that night in April.) In August, Chandler Stephenson of the Washington Capitals used his day with the Stanley Cup to bring it to Humboldt, a promise he made before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was evident that around every corner, the Broncos had the support of many around the world.

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When the post-game ceremony ends, the Broncos will then begin preparing for the next hurdle. On Friday, they’ll begin their first road trip since the crash as they travel to Nipawin, the destination they were heading to on April 6. It’s “a road trip that we never finished,” said Brayden Camrud, one of two survivors who returned this season.

The final standings won’t matter at the end of the season. The fact that the Broncos are back on the ice with the support and love of the Humboldt community and hockey world will help get them through what will be an emotional season.

“They’ve gone through hurt last year,” Oystrick told the Canadian Press. “Some of these guys lost friends last year and the year before. So guys are dealing with things and will continue to deal with things.

“My faith has not been destroyed by this, in fact it’s probably been strengthened.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stanley Cup visits Humboldt Hockey Day, memorial site

Associated Press
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For all that the community of Humboldt has been through over the past several months, a little bit of joy washed over the rural Saskatchewan town on Friday.

Humboldt hasn’t left the minds of those in hockey communities around the world since a tragic bus crash tore through the hockey world and claimed the lives of 16 players and team staff on April 6.

Chandler Stephenson of the Washington Capitals, a Saskatoon native, made a promise before the playoffs began that if they won he’d take it to Humboldt.

It was a classy gesture at a time when a community was stricken with grief, but on Friday, the Stanley Cup champion got a chance to make good on the pact he made just days after the horrific accident as Lord Stanley paid a visit to the town of 6,000 as part of Humboldt Hockey Day organized by the NHL and the NHLPA.

The Cup made an emotional stop at the site of the crash at the intersection of Highway 35 and 335, where a memorial now stands with crosses bearing the names of those lost along with hockey sticks, flowers, stuffed animals and other tokens of remembrance.

Philip Pritchard, the ‘Keeper of the Cup’, tweeted out, “While their Stanley Cup dreams went unfulfilled, we thought we’d bring Stanley to them. God Bless,” along with pictures of the Cup in the middle of the memorial site.

From there, it went to Humboldt’s home rink, Elgar Petersen Arena, where Stephenson was joined by several NHLers, including Brayden Schenn, Brayden McNabb and Brett Kulak along with around 3,500 people from the town.

The Canadian Press reported that Stephenson met with some of the parents of the players involved in the crash.

“It’s tough … listening to some of the parents,” Stephenson said. “It’s tough to talk to them (to) … give your condolences. Nothing can replace a life, so you just try to help out as much as you can and that’s what this day is all about.”

Stephenson used to play with members of the Broncos, including Kaleb Dahlgren, who was one of 13 to survive the crash.

“That means so much to me,” Dahlgren told CP. “I know those people that lost their lives there would really appreciate that. I appreciate it too. It’s nice to honor that and it really does mean a lot.”

#HumboldtStrong


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Stephenson taking Stanley Cup to Humboldt to help town heal

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Chandler Stephenson was mid-celebration on the ice after winning the Stanley Cup when someone yelled his name.

Stephenson looked up into the stands and saw Brayden Camrud, a friend from back home who played for the Humboldt Broncos junior team. Camrud and Kaleb Dahlgren, another friend of Stephenson’s, survived the April bus crash on the prairie of Saskatchewan that killed 16 people, including 11 of their teammates.

Stephenson knew at the beginning of the playoffs he wanted to take the Cup to Humboldt if he and the Washington Capitals won it. When the Capitals led the Vegas Golden Knights 3-1 in the final, the 24-year-old said it was his intent to share his day with the Cup with the people of Humboldt. He is from nearby Saskatoon.

He will make good on that commitment Friday, hoping his small gesture will help somehow.

“The community deserves to have a good day,” Stephenson said. “We’re not trying to be saviors by any means because nothing can replace a life. We’re just trying to make it as positive a day as we can and hopefully put some smiles and some laughs on some people’s faces.”

Stephenson will be joined by more than a dozen current and former players for Humboldt Hockey Day, organized by the NHL and NHLPA to celebrate the strength and resilience of the town of 6,000. Broncos spokeswoman Tammy Robert called it a baby step in a complicated healing process for victims, their loved ones and everyone affected.

“This day is designed to bring some of the joy back to the game of hockey for the community of Humboldt,” Robert said. “It’s about clearing the way for the new 2018-19 season for the Humboldt Broncos team and just giving them the opportunity to have fun.”

Those opportunities have been in short supply since the April 6 crash, when the team bus on its way to a playoff game was hit by a truck. The hockey world that so often functions like a small town grieved together as NHL teams paid tribute with stickers and moments of silence and an online fundraising effort raised more than $15 million for the victims.

In an attempt to figure out what might best help those in Humboldt, former NHL defenseman Andrew Ference reached out to Colorado Avalanche general manager and Hockey Hall of Famer Joe Sakic, who survived the 1986 Swift Current Broncos crash that killed four people.

“His big message was that you can only do so much, first of all, but also that every person is going to arrive at their grief, or they’re going to deal with it, in different ways and it’s going to be at different times,” said Ference, who is now the NHL’s director of social impact, growth and fan development. “There’s not one blanket kind of reaction to a whole group.”

Stephenson knows that. He was thrilled to see Camrud in Las Vegas when the Capitals won the Cup and is glad to be skating with Dahlgren again this summer. He understands many others weren’t so lucky, which is why he thought of Humboldt before planning any other activity he’d do in his short period with the Cup.

“Your time with the Cup isn’t exactly forever, so I think it’s just really special that he’s willing to do that,” said Humboldt Broncos alum and retired defenseman Sheldon Brookbank, who won it with Chicago in 2013. “I think the Cup being there is going to just bring a little bit of joy back to the community. There’s something about that Stanley Cup, every time you see it or are in the same room as it, it just brings that certain awe factor.”

Members of the Broncos organization will be around Stephenson and the Cup for a private function before he takes the famous trophy to a public event in the afternoon that will feature street hockey with the likes of Ference, Adam Graves, Calgary’s Travis Hamonic and St. Louis’ Brayden Schenn. Ference said players who have never won the Cup often steer clear of someone’s day with it, but this is an exception.

“When this opportunity presented itself to do something around Chandler’s day and to go in and be with the community and do something fun like street hockey and just hanging out around the local rink, guys stepped up and they wanted to be a part of it,” Ference said. “There definitely wasn’t any arm-twisting involved.”

Robert said the NHL and NHLPA have been “a rock behind the scenes” for the Broncos, calling this event an extension of that support. Brookbank, who spent time this summer visiting injured players at Saskatoon City Hospital, understands the role hockey plays in the community. He figures the Cup being there will make a difference.

“It’s small-town Saskatchewan,” Brookbank said. “It’s a really special thing, and the Stanley Cup doesn’t get out there that often. For Chandler to do that, I just think that’s amazing on him.”

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