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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MORE: Humboldt Broncos reunite to honor late head coach

Driver arrested in Humboldt Broncos bus crash facing 29 charges

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The Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced on Friday that the driver of the tractor-trailer that collided with the Humboldt Broncos’ bus, killing 16 players and staff and injuring 13 others, has been arrested.

Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, 29, has been charged with 16 counts of “dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death” and 13 counts of “dangerous operation of motor vehicle causing bodily injury.” He was uninjured and detained after the crash before being released.

The team was on its way to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game in Nipawin, Sask. when the April 6 crash occurred.

From the CBC:

He was heading westbound on Highway 335 in a semi as a Charlie’s Charters bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos was travelling northbound on Highway 35 to an SJHL playoff game in Nipawin, Sask.

The bus had the right of way. There is a flashing stop sign for drivers on Highway 335 at Highway 35 between Nipawin and Tisdale. The RCMP said the semi was in the intersection when the bus crashed into it.

Sidhu worked for the trucking company for one month prior to the fatal collision, according to owner Sukhmander Singh. Singh said Sidhu trained with him for two weeks and was driving on his own for two more weeks before the crash.

According to police, Sidhu will remain in custody before appearing in Saskatchewan provincial court sometime next week. Per the CBC, “convictions for dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death can result in a sentence of up to 14 years in prison, while a conviction for injuring someone could land someone in prison for 10 years.”

A GoFundMe fundraising campaign started by a Humboldt resident ended in early April after raising over $15 million to help the families of victims and survivors. Donations have continued, however, and the number is now over $19 million, according to Broncos president Kevin Garinger.

In May, it was announced that the Broncos would ice a team next season in the SJHL. The first step in the rebuilding process was to hold a training camp featuring 80 invited players. Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock and Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar were on hand to assist.

As the hockey world continued to send its support, the Broncos hired Nathan Oystrick as new head coach, replacing the late Darcy Haugan, who was named winner of the inaugural Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award at last month’s NHL Awards show. Washington Capitals forward Chandler Stephenson, a Saskatoon native, said he will spend his day with the Stanley Cup in Humboldt.

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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.