Humboldt Broncos

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Former Humboldt Bronco aiming to make team again

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He survived the horrific bus crash that killed 16 and injured 13 more, including himself. And now a former Humboldt Broncos wants his shot at battling for his spot back.

Graysen Cameron was on the Bronco’s bus on April 6, 2018, when a semi-truck ran a stop sign at an intersection and slammed into the bus, which was carrying the team to its playoff date against the Nipawin Hawks in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

Cameron’s life was spared, but he suffered a broken back in the horrific crash. Now, after spending time with trainers of the Calgary Flames, the 20-year-old is ready to give it his best shot.

“My only focus is getting to Humboldt and being able to perform there. I don’t want to show up and be average, I want to make a name for myself in the league, and do whatever it takes to try and get a championship there,” Cameron told The Canadian Press.

Cameron spent last season in Red Deer, Atla., as an assistant coach with the Red Deer Midget AAA Optimist Chiefs, a team he played for prior to linking up with the Broncos.

Cameron told CP that making the team won’t be easy, nor with the pressure of people expecting him to make it.

While he said his comeback attempt is for himself, he wants to play for those who fell in the crash.

“They’re always there (on my mind), and I think I’m not going back for them, I’m going back for me,” he said. “But I’m playing for them. I’ll always play for them.”


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

Healing slow to come for some after Humboldt crash

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The 13 players who survived the Humboldt Broncos bus crash one year ago in Canada are dealing with injuries ranging from paralysis and back pain to brain damage and mental health issues. A synopsis from The Canadian Press:

GRAYSEN CAMERON

The 19-year-old forward can’t play hockey again after suffering back injuries, a concussion and an eye injury. He had surgery in November to remove metal rods and screws in an attempt to improve his mobility. He has become an assistant coach for the Red Deer Optimist Chiefs, a team in the Alberta Midget Hockey League. Cameron had played with the team from 2015 to 2017 before joining the Broncos.

BRAYDEN CAMRUD

The 20-year-old forward overcame a severe concussion, loss of feeling in his left arm and neck problems. He also had some cuts on his hands. He has returned to play with the Broncos this season. Camrud continues to attend physiotherapy as a result of his injuries.

”Eventually I overcame everything and I’m here now,” he said in September. ”I’d say I’m close to 100% now and good to go.”

KALEB DAHLGREN

The 21-year-old forward suffered a fractured skull, a puncture wound in his head, a brain injury and six broken vertebrae in his back and neck. He also had blood clots in one arm and behind an eardrum. He is still in rehabilitation and is seeing a neurologist to determine if he will be able to play competitive hockey. He attends York University in Toronto full time and has committed to play for the university’s Lions hockey team.

”We are unsure if he will ever be able to play hockey again. His entire life revolved around hockey,” his family said in a victim impact statement during a court sentencing hearing in January for the truck driver who caused the crash. ”This accident has certainly turned his life upside down, not to mention that the brain injury significantly slowed his reading ability … We are unsure what the future holds but are thankful Kaleb survived the accident.”

BRYCE FISKE

The 21-year-old defenseman suffered a neck fracture, skull fracture, left shoulder fracture and pelvis fracture. His spleen was lacerated and his left lung was punctured. His jaw was fractured in four places. He’s missing two teeth and his tongue was severely injured. Fiske is studying commerce and playing hockey for the Ridgebacks at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

”Currently, Bryce is able to move freely on his own,” said a statement of facts entered at the sentencing hearing. ”He has a significant amount of jaw pain and is still in treatment for his injuries. The majority of his treatment is for his jaw; he will require at least one more surgery for his jaw to be reconstructed.”

MORGAN GOBEIL

The 19-year-old defenseman has a traumatic brain injury. He sustained multiple skull fractures, three facial fractures, broken ribs and lacerations to his liver and spleen. His family said in a statement in March that he spent 333 days in hospital. He has not yet regained his ability to walk or talk, but the family remains hopeful he will someday experience those milestones.

”He has endured many medical procedures and hours upon hours of physical, occupational, and speech therapy,” said his parents. ”During his time at the hospital, Morgan has celebrated his high school graduation, his brother’s wedding, his 19th birthday, several holidays and he has witnessed the change of all four seasons.”

MATTHIEU GOMERCIC

The 21-year-old forward had a separated shoulder, a concussion and cuts to his hand and chin. His spleen was enlarged, his teeth shifted and his jaw was slightly displaced. He still gets headaches and has problems with one shoulder. Gomercic has joined the Ridgebacks at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and is studying kinesiology. He continues to deal with emotional issues on a daily basis.

”My son remembers moments before the accident and then remembers waking up outside the bus in the middle of this disaster,” his mother, Joanne Girard-Gomercic, wrote in her victim impact statement. ”Although he was in a lot of pain, he got up and looked around to see where he was. He was convinced it was a nightmare because he could not believe that what he was seeing was real. What he saw and heard that night will affect him for the rest of his life, in ways that are hard to predict.”

XAVIER LaBELLE

The 19-year-old defenseman suffered a fractured skull, facial fractures and deep lacerations, as well as a brain injury that led to amnesia for two weeks. The severe injuries made him unrecognizable after the crash, which resulted in a misidentification that led to further chaos and heartbreak. He continues to undergo surgeries and faces daily challenges.

”As a young man, Xavier has shown unbelievable courage over the last nine months as he comes to terms with his injuries and the terrible loss of so many teammates, friends and mentors,” said his mother, Tanya LaBelle, in her victim impact statement. ”Xavier’s injuries have affected him physically, mentally and emotionally. His goal and dream to play a higher level of hockey through a hockey scholarship was suddenly and brutally taken away from him in the most horrific circumstances.”

LAYNE MATECHUK

The 19-year-old defenseman suffered a severe brain injury. He had extensive facial fractures and a sternum fracture. Both of his lungs collapsed. He was in a coma for a month and had to learn to walk and talk again, but has left the hospital. He is able to walk with a significant limp. He also has difficulty using his one arm due to the brain injury.

”Layne has a traumatic brain injury which has left him to be such a different son than we had before the accident,” his father, Kevin Matechuk, said in his victim impact statement. ”He is angry and confused and cannot understand why this has happened and how his life has changed so much. These injuries have taken away everything. His dream to play hockey has been taken away.”

DEREK PATTER

The 20-year-old forward suffered bleeding outside his brain, as well as right shin and fibula fractures, a nasal bone fracture and significant cuts and bruises. He continues to struggle with his leg and a surgeon has recently told him he has more healing to do.

”He has recovered enough to return to playing with the Broncos organization this year,” his parents, Roy and Laurel Patter, said in their victim impact statement. ”Being one of the survivors brings immense stress for such young men: From grieving the loss of the 16 people that they were very, very close with all at once … to dealing with the recovery of their own injuries and the changes in their physical abilities … to watching each other struggle with recovery both mentally and physically while trying to stay strong for each other.”

NICK SHUMLANSKI

The 21-year-old forward sustained a fractured bone behind his ear and a lumbar avulsion fracture, but walked away from the crash. He has been told his ear may never heal but he doesn’t expect that will have a significant effect. His back seems to have healed, but he continues to deal with emotional issues. Shumlanski is playing hockey for the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers in Charlottetown.

”Nick began counselling shortly after his release from the hospital,” said his sister, Sydney Shumlanski, in her victim impact statement. ”It has been almost one year since the accident, and he is still unable to get onto a charter bus with his teammates in P.E.I. and go to the away games. He either drives himself to the games or joins someone from the coaching staff.”

TYLER SMITH

The 20-year-old forward had two broken ribs, a broken shoulder blade, a broken collarbone and a punctured lung. He had part of his small intestine removed due to the injuries. He also had a stroke and is expected to require annual MRIs. Smith returned to play with the Broncos in the fall, but decided to leave the team to continue his recovery at home. He said his physical injuries are nothing compared to the mental health issues some of his teammates face.

”There are a lot of guys that have to live with the pictures in their minds,” said Smith. ”That’s something I would never wish for anybody.”

RYAN STRASCHNITZKI

The 19-year-old defenseman suffered a concussion, brain bleeding, an injured right shoulder blade and a collapsed right lung. He was paralyzed from the chest down and the injury is expected to be permanent. Straschnitzki played in an exhibition sledge hockey charity game in Calgary in September and is hoping to eventually represent Canada at the Winter Olympics.

”I am beyond heartbroken that my big, beautiful boy will never get to realize his dreams in stand-up hockey,” said his mother, Michelle Straschnitzki, in her victim impact statement.

”Ryan has near-perfect recall of the crash and the ensuing carnage,” she said. ”I cry daily over all that was lost that night.”

JACOB WASSERMANN

The 19-year-old goalie suffered a brain injury, a broken shoulder blade, fractured ribs and nasal bone fractures. Both of his lungs collapsed and a spinal cord injury resulted in paralysis from the navel down. Wassermann attends physiotherapy three times a week to get stronger and learn new ways to live with paralysis. He has started to have movement in his hips, his father, Kirby Wasserman, said in November. He has also turned to sledge hockey to keep his on-ice dream alive.

Straschnitzki makes new life year after Humboldt crash

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Tom Straschnitzki was wrangling his fussy youngest child when his iPhone buzzed. His hands full, Tom put the phone on speaker and heard the terrifying sound of his oldest son calling from a bus and screaming for help.

”Dad, you’ve got to help this time! You’ve got to save the boys! You’ve gotta help!” Ryan Straschnitzki pleaded.

Straschnitzki’s transport bus was on the way back from his rehabilitation session and it had been rear-ended by a truck at a red light. The impact from the December accident hurled the 19-year-old former hockey prospect from his wheelchair to the floor. The fender-bender not far from his home outside Calgary, Alberta, came 10 months after a devastating collision on a Saskatchewan highway that left several members of his Humboldt Broncos teammates and coaches among the 16 dead , a country in mourning and every parent who has ever put a young athlete on a bus shaken.

Tom and his wife, Michelle, were panicked that their son, paralyzed from the chest down, was in yet another bus accident. They were also bewildered by their son imploring his dad to help other hockey players when he was alone on the transport bus.

Tom tried to talk his son down, bring his mind back to the present and promised him there was no one else to save. Straschnitzki hung up and his parents waited for a few frightening minutes until he calmly called back and said he was fine. He would get on another bus and head home.

Though he downplayed the episode months later, it was no less traumatic for a family still reeling from the one of the worst tragedies in Canadian sports history. In the year since the April 6 accident, grieving families have tried to stitch their lives back together, most moving on without their sons. The Straschnitzkis have a new life, recast as a family of six stuffed in hotel rooms, relying on donations to stretch their meager budget and making sure their son can still live his best life.

”This is the life we have now,” Tom Straschnitzki said. ”And we’re not going to let anyone cry for us.”

Ryan Straschnitzki wears a big smile as he wheels into a Philadelphia hotel lobby in a Philadelphia Flyers sweatshirt and a backward baseball cap. He was in town for a recent checkup at Shriners Hospitals for Children and had spent the previous night at the Flyers game.

Straschnitzki, who turns 20 on April 20, is upbeat in public and has tried to stay positive throughout his daily physiotherapy sessions, sledge hockey practice, interviews and even just the joys of being a young adult. He hangs out with friends, watches Netflix, plays videogames and dabbles with the idea of working for an NHL team or becoming a motivational speaker.

Straschnitzki is idealistic about his recovery and, like countless athletes who suffered physical setbacks, refuses to let doctors define his fate. His playing career snatched away, Straschnitzki has taken assisted steps on a treadmill with the aid of therapists.

”I’m pretty strong-minded,” he said. ”It kind of got to me that, there are ups and downs, but don’t let it get to you and keep pushing forward.”

The Broncos were just teens from across Canada with eyes on hockey scholarships and the NHL when their bus left for a playoff game in Nipawin, Saskatchewan. The survivors now are spread out – center Brayden Camrud returned to play this season for the Broncos – and most sustained permanent physical injuries and other health issues. They remain bonded through a group text chat where they talk hockey or just check in and make sure everyone is OK.

”I’m glad at where the boys are right now,” Ryan Straschnitzki said. ”They’re healing in their own ways. We’re there for each other. The guys who aren’t with us anymore, they left an impact on us. I think we use that as motivation for everything we do now.”

His new life starts with sled hockey – known as sledge hockey outside the U.S. – for players with physical disabilities. Players use two sticks, which have a spike-end for pushing and a blade-end for shooting. The recent stop at Shriners cleared him for contact, reigniting dreams of representing his country at the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing. Straschnitzki has found refuge from the dark days on the ice and plays now not to make a team or impress a coach, but for fun.

”It’s just trying not to get in my own head,” he said. ”My way to escape from all that is on the ice.”

Straschnitzki has mostly vivid memories of the accident but largely avoids describing it. His father has no doubt Straschnitzki is dealing with guilt for simply being alive while so many of his buddies are gone.

The Broncos rebuilt their roster this season and made the playoffs. Straschnitzki couldn’t watch. He skipped the memorial banner ceremony and has yet to return for a game.

”I’m not sure when I’ll go back,” he said. ”I just don’t want to. I don’t think I’m ready. It’s kind of a mix of all sorts of things. I think when I am ready, I’ll go back and visit.”

Tom thinks his son could benefit from counseling, but that ”it takes Ryan a lot to trust people.”

Tom was laid off from New Star Energy shortly after the accident and Michelle Straschnitzki is also out of work even as their lives remain impossibly hectic. There’s always somewhere to be, a function, a trip, rehab, and all the commitments for their other children. They are expected to move into a new house on April 27.

”We’ve got a paralyzed kid here. We need help,” Tom said. ”Jobs are hard right now in Alberta.”

The agonizing reminders of the wreck loom large as the anniversary approaches. Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, the truck driver who caused the crash, was sentenced last month to eight years in prison . He had pleaded guilty earlier this year to 29 counts of dangerous driving.

On Saturday, the Straschnitzkis will continue their push from helplessness to hopeful and focus on the possibilities ahead. Ryan Straschnitzki just wants to go to the Calgary Flames game Saturday night and not think about the anniversary.

”That’s the day our life changed,” Tom Straschnitzki said. ”This year is the year we begin again.”

Humboldt Broncos rebuild a year after tragedy

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It was a year ago — April 6, 2018 — when the hockey world learned of the news of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. The team was a on its way to a playoff game when it crashed with 28 passengers inside.

The Broncos are a close-knit team from the small city of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, which has a population of about 6,000. Many gathered at the community center attached to the hockey arena there after word of the horrific crash began to circulate.

Since that tragic day, the Broncos have been rebuilt. They iced a team this season, with a new coach, and made the playoffs again, all while never forgetting those who were lost.

Tim Layden shares how hockey has helped the Humboldt community heal, one year after the bus crash that killed 16 people and injured 13 more within the Broncos organization.

Humboldt’s playoff run comes to an end, one year after crash

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ESTEVAN, Saskatchewan (AP) — A year after several players were killed in a bus crash, the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team was eliminated from the postseason with a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 7 against the Estevan Bruins on Tuesday night.

The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League club led the opening-round series 3-1, but lost the final three games.

The Broncos were on their way to a playoff game against the Nipawin Hawks on April 6, 2018, when their bus collided with a truck at a rural intersection, killing 16 people and injuring 13 others.

The Hawks went on to win the SJHL championship in 2018. However they were also eliminated from the playoffs in Game 7 after a 4-3 loss on Tuesday to the Yorkton Terriers.

Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench tweeted that despite the loss, the team can still feel proud of its accomplishments.

”Way to go Broncos! Although last night’s loss was heartbreaking, you have done our city proud. This season was an inspiration to all, hold your heads high!” Muench said in his post.