Saturday, April 7, 2018

Miles away yet still mourning

A picture I took of now NHLer Tyson Barrie before boarding the Kelowna Rockets bus
I've ridden on a junior hockey bus for 23 years. That's over 1,000 times without incident. Heck, current Edmonton Oilers bench boss Todd McLellan attempted to teach me the game of chess without success on a junior hockey bus. I've helped the bus driver put chains on the Kelowna Rockets bus on an icy highway between Spokane and Tri City. I've watched movies, some good yet mostly bad on what can affectionately be called the 'Iron Lung'.

Whether it is sharing a laugh or attempting, with little success, to get some shuteye with the use of a body pillow on the floor of the bus, not for a split second have I ever taken for granted the safety while traveling across Western Canada at the United States.

I've logged many miles with the likes of McLellan, Brad McEwan, Marc Habscheid, Jeff Truitt, Ryan Huska, Dan Lambert and current Kelowna Rockets head coach Jason Smith just to name a few. Thankfully, every time we arrive at our destination safely we promptly return home without incident. While measured by wins and losses over the course of the hockey season, we are agonizingly reminded again, of how blessed we are at the conclusion of the hockey season that we can say, 'We made it'. Sadly, the Humboldt Broncos and the coaches and players that perished in Friday's incident near Tisdale, Saskatchewan can't utter those same words.

I was crushed to hear 15 members of the SJHL team were killed or injured after a semi trailer unit t-boned the team bus at an intersection without adhering to a stop sign. In a split second lives were changed. The hockey world was changed. Not for a hour. Not for a day. Not for a year. The hockey world will be changed forever.

Being a father of twin 15 year-old boys, I can not imagine the shear emotional pain the families that lost loved ones are going through right now. It has to be nothing short of devastating to see so many young lives being extinguished in the blink of an eye. The only thing I can remotely draw parallels too was when a  teammate of mine, Nix Anderson, lost his life while traveling home from Swift Current to Meadow Lake in the winter of 1992.

Nix Anderson and I played in the White Mud Hockey League with the Eastend Jets. We would often pay for gas as Nix, 19,  drove with pride his new Chevy Beretta to and from road games. Often driving well over the speed limit in an effort to get us to Eastend or any other road game along the circuit, I often shuttered at the speed in which he drove us and his valued vehicle along the narrow stretch of paved highway. Not once did I say anything about the speed, only to regret later not opening my mouth when Nix was killed behind the wheel of that car when he lost control while heading back home to Meadow Lake during less than ideal road conditions.
Attending his funeral shortly after the fatal accident, it left a lasting impression and made me question my own immortality, even though I was 24 at the time and still had the misconception that I was invincible.

In the fall of 1986, when the Western Hockey League's Swift Current Broncos re-locating to my hometown from Lethbridge, going to games was a must see event. The players were local heroes in the community of 15 thousand. You knew every player by name and felt the team represented everything good about who you were. They put the city on the map and made you feel a sense of pride every time they beat bigger cities like Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Prince Albert.
When tragedy struck on December 30th of that year, the entire community was in mourning. Four adopted sons to many, or brothers to others, were lost when the team's bus crashed just outside of Swift Current while traveling for a road game in Regina.
In a flash, the lives of Scott Kruger, Trent Kresse, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff were snuffed out.
Well over 30 year's later, the Swift Current Broncos bus accident remains fresh in my mind. Those players. Those families. That mourning as a community will never leave me.

While 13 hundred kilometers away from the bus crash that claimed 15 members of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's Humboldt Broncos Friday night, the impact of that horrible tragedy makes my heart pound yet again. I knew none of the coaches. I did not know any of the players. But that doesn't matter. The lives of the families, friends and those in Humboldt that cheered them on, win or lose, are forever changed.

Will we ever truly heal from this recent tragedy? Sadly no.
Undoubtedly we will cope, but Swift Current has never forgotten.
Those lost on that Humboldt Broncos bus will forever be remembered.

1 comment:

Mel Kozun said...

Thank you for sharing.

As a hockey parent/coach, I've been on those buses in less than ideal winter road conditions - thankful we always arrived safe and sound.

We will take time to grieve, and a long time to heal. The scars will remain.

We will never be the same.