Empty ice and the chill of familiar details haunt Humboldt following bus crash, News (Port Stanley Minor Hockey)

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Empty ice and the chill of familiar details haunt Humboldt following bus crash
Submitted By PSMHA Webmaster on Saturday, April 07, 2018

The details of the journey were familiar: a team on its way to a game, filled with nerves. Bus rides, from one rural rink to another, are so common in hockey

A bus crash in rural Saskatchewan devastated a junior hockey team on Friday night and by Saturday it had reverberated across the professional sporting world at an astonishing rate. NHL arenas started Saturday night games with silence. Often stoic coaches verged on tears when speaking about it.

It is easy to understand why. It’s because the crash killed 15, many of them players under 20 – a team captain, a top-scorer, a defenceman who loved piano, the head coach. But it’s also because the details of that bus journey were so familiar, for both players and the parents of players: a team on its way to a must-win playoff game, filled with nerves about what would happen after the end of the ride, not in the middle. Those bus rides, from one rural rink to another, are so common in minor hockey, as many rattled professional players pointed out after the crash. As the details came out, making it more and more vivid, it was hard not to transport yourself into the position of those parents and friends, waiting for updates in a community centre or hospital waiting room.

“I don’t have a lot to say,” Bill Chow, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) president said at a news conference Saturday. He pressed a closed hand to his mouth and paused for several seconds, breathing in and out. “The worst nightmare has happened.”

Empty seats are seen at the Humboldt Uniplex ice-skating rink on April 7, 2018 in Humboldt, Saskatchewan after a bus carrying a junior ice hockey team collided with a semi-trailer truck near Tisdale and Nipawin, Saskatchewan.KYMBER RAE/AFP/Getty Images

The Humboldt Broncos’ playoff game was in Nipawin on Friday night. That afternoon, the team’s bus left Humboldt, Sask., a town of 6,000 where the SJHL team is a one of the biggest shows in town. To Humboldt, the Broncos were “our boys,” as former mayor Malcolm Eaton told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

The Broncos were down three games to one in the best-of-seven semifinal of the SJHL’s Canalta Cup playoffs. Two nights before, the Nipawin Hawks had come back from a 5-3 deficit to beat the Broncos in triple overtime. To stay in contention, the Broncos needed a win.

The ride to Nipawin takes two hours or so. Around 5 p.m., the bus was about 20 kilometres away. A truck was coming from the east on Highway 335 with peat moss headed for Alberta. The two highways, 35 and 335, intersect at an unremarkable crossing north of Tisdale, Sask. There’s a farm in the distance and not much else, just hectares of flat land, and two stop signs halting west- and eastbound traffic before they hit the 35. At that intersection, Saskatchewan RCMP said, the westbound truck and northbound bus collided in horrific fashion.

It’s not clear what happened. Mounties briefly detained the truck driver “as part of the process of the investigation,” said Curtis Zablocki, assistant commissioner for Saskatchewan RCMP. The driver was then released and given “mental health and wellness assistance” after the crash. With an investigation looking at all the factors – road conditions, weather, the vehicles and their drivers – it’s too early to tell what went wrong, Zablocki said. “This work will take some time.”

Myles Shumlanski lives about half a kilometre from the scene. His son Nick is a centreman for the Broncos. Nick called his dad around 5 p.m., after the crash and Shumlanski drove over in a panic. “It was a pretty devastating sight,” Shumlanski told the StarPhoenix’s Arthur White-Crummey. “I knew that it was a disaster.”

Shumlanski’s son was one of a few on his feet. Shumlanski took him to the car then returned to help the others, many of them immobile, pinned beneath debris. “People were getting blankets. You were taking your jackets. You were doing anything to cover these boys,” he told the StarPhoenix. “They were in snow and ice and it was very cold yesterday. They were in very bad shape.”

As emergency personnel arrived, Shumlanski recognized some of them as volunteer firefighters from Tisdale, south of the scene. “You guys need more help … get more help,” he told them.

Victims were rushed to hospital – the start of what critical care physician Hassan Masri called “the longest, worst and most tragic night of my career.”

The welcome sign is shown in Humboldt, Sask., Saturday, April 7, 2018.Liam Richards/Canadian Press /THE CANADIAN PRESS

“The images can’t be unseen or forgotten, the stories can’t be unheard or ignored,” Dr. Masri wrote in a Facebook post. “Families waiting for hours to identify their loved ones and smiling of joy at the idea of a significant injury as long as it meant that their loved one was alive brought chills to my spine.”

RJ Patter, the father of Broncos player Derek, posted a photo from hospital with his son lying in bed, side by side and clutching hands with two teammates. “Bonding and healing in hospital,” Patter wrote in a caption on Twitter.

At Humboldt’s arena in the wake of the crash, people were just sitting in the stands, as the Star Phoenix’s Kevin Mitchell wrote in a moving profile of the community’s response to the tragedy. “The ice was empty. There was nothing going on,” Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench said. “But there’s people, just sitting in the stands, stunned. They didn’t know what to do.”

Of the 29 people aboard the bus, 15 were killed and 14 injured, some critically, with at least one player facing the prospect of being paralyzed. Among the dead are the team’s 20-year-old captain Logan Schatz, head coach and general manager, Darcy Haughan, assistant coach Mark Cross, play-by-play announcer Tyler Bieber, volunteer statistician Brody Hinz. Xavier Labelle, a defenceman who loved to play piano, was killed, as was right winger Evan Thomas, defenceman Stephen Wack, forward Conner Lukan, Jaxon Joseph and 17-year-old Adam Herold, Postmedia News reported.

There’s people, just sitting in the stands, stunned. They didn’t know what to do

                                                    "As Posted - National Post Online April 7 2018"

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