The Canadian Press via AP

Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos bus crash pleads guilty

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MELFORT, Saskatchewan (AP) — The driver whose transport truck crashed into a hockey team bus in Canada, killing 16 people, pleaded guilty Tuesday to all charges against him.

Thirteen others were injured when Jaskirat Singh Sidhu’s truck loaded with peat moss collided with the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus in rural Saskatchewan in April.

The 30-year-old Sidhu pleaded guilty to 16 counts of dangerous driving causing death and 13 charges of dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

The Broncos were on their way to a playoff game in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

The case was adjourned until Jan. 28 for sentencing.

”His position to me was, ‘I just want to plead guilty. I don’t want you to plea bargain. I don’t want a trial,”’ Sidhu’s lawyer, Mark Brayford, said outside court, his client beside him with his head down.

”Mr. Sidhu advised me: ‘I don’t want to make things any worse. I can’t make things any better, but I certainly don’t want to make them worse by having a trial.”’

Brayford said more evidence is still to be handed over to the defense, but his client wanted to plead guilty to avoid further delay.

”He wanted the families to know he is devastated by the grief he has caused them,” Brayford said. ”He is overwhelmed by the expressions of sympathy and kindness that some of the families and players have expressed to him in spite of the fact that their grief is entirely his fault.”

The bus was travelling north on Highway 35 and the semi was westbound on Highway 335, which has a stop sign.

The maximum penalty for dangerous driving causing death is 14 years. It’s 10 years for dangerous driving causing bodily harm.

Scott Thomas, whose 18-year-old son Evan died in the crash, sat near Sidhu in court and said the guilty plea meant a lot to him.

”All I’ve ever told my kids is speaking about accountability and responsibility and to hear him use his own words to plead guilty, it’s powerful,” Thomas said, fighting his emotions outside court

”Now we can move forward with the next part of this.”

Tom Straschnitzki, whose 19-year-old son Ryan was one of two survivors who were paralyzed, said he wants more answers about what happened and what the trucker was thinking.

”You’re taught when you’re young: red light, green light, and look both ways,” he said. ”Why didn’t he do that? Was he just in a hurry? Did he have to get a load in right away? Was he pressured by his bosses?”

Michelle Straschnitzki, Ryan’s mother, said she is worried the guilty plea will mean a lighter sentence.

”I’m glad he won’t be putting everyone through a lengthy, exhaustive and heartbreaking trial,” she said. ”However, I also hope that by doing so, he doesn’t get an absurdly reduced sentence as per our justice system.”

Thomas said he’s not worried about the time Sidhu could serve.

”When he said, ‘Guilty,’ to me, I have my closure,” he said. ”If he spends a day, if he spends 10 years, time is irrelevant. He was guilty. He acknowledged that. That’s all I needed to hear. The rest of the sentence doesn’t matter to me. It really doesn’t. It is not going to bring Evan back. I’ve got to spend the rest of my life with it. He’s got to spend the rest of his life with it.”

The owner of the Calgary trucking company that hired Singh, Sukhmander Singh of Adesh Deol Trucking, also faces eight charges relating to non-compliance with federal and provincial safety regulations.

Nathan Oystrick steps down as Humboldt Broncos head coach

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Nearly six months after he was hired as head coach and general manager of the Humboldt Broncos, former NHLer Nathan Oystrick is stepping down from the position.

In a Tweet sent Friday morning, Oystrick announced his decision while acknowledging the “extreme stress and constant pressure of working with the organization.” Assistant Scott Barney will take over as interim head coach for the rest of the season.

As of late Friday afternoon Oystrick has yet to release a follow up statement.

The Broncos sent a release out saying the team and Oystrick “have decided to part ways” and that they “wish him the very best in all his future endeavors.”

Through 37 games of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season, the rebuilt Broncos are in second place in their division with a 21-13-2 record, fourth-best overall in the league. Oystrick was hired after head coach Darcy Haugan died in the April bus crash that killed 16 people and injured 13 others.

“I understand how much the Broncos have always meant to the community of Humboldt but I also understand what the team has come to mean to so many people across North America and beyond,” said Oystrick after his hiring.

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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.

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.