On April 6 at around 5 p.m., the coach bus carrying members of the Humboldt Broncos, an ice hockey team that plays in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL), collided with a tractor-trailer truck just north of Tisdale. The bus was traveling northbound on Highway 35 for the town of Nipawin for a playoff game while the tractor-trailer was heading westbound on Highway 335.
Of the 29 passengers along with the bus driver on the bus, 16 players and staff members are pronounced dead with 13 passengers being injured. While most staff members were over the age of 20, the players were between the ages of 16 and 21.
Brian Starkell, the chief of the Nipawin Fire Department, was among the first emergency workers on the scene. He said that he had never come across such carnage in his 40-year career. “Nobody should have to see that,” he admits.
The crash removed a large portion of the roof from the bus. Emergency workers needed a crane to move the bus’s roof in order for firefighters to squeeze under the wreckage to pull out the injured.
While the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are still investigating the cause of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, the accident has prompted many to speculate on the danger of the intersection.
“People are asking: ‘Is this a really dangerous intersection?’” says Art Lalonde, a farmer, reeve for the Rural Municipality of Connaught, Saskatchewan. “Well, it’s not. You can see for miles and it’s absolutely straight.”
Many people assumed that the truck driver passed through Highway 35’s stop sign before being hit by the bus which had the right of way. Though others have suggested that the truck driver, who recently completed his training, had a problem when turning his truck onto Highway 35 and was struck due to a moment’s inattention by the bus driver.
The cause of the crash is still inconclusive. Sukhmander Singh, owner of the trucking company Adesh Deol Trucking Ltd., apologized for the crash involving one of his trucks. “I’m just sorry for everything,” he said.
The RCMP stated they would not release the names of the deceased until the families were notified.
Though, of their own accord, some family members have begun confirming the deaths of loved ones: Darcy Haugan, head coach and general manager; Mark Cross, assistant coach; Glen Doerksen, bus driver; Logan Schatz, team captain; Tyler Bieber, radio station employee; Brody Hinz, team statistician; Jaxon Joseph, son of former National Hockey League (NHL) player Chris Joseph; Adam Herold, the youngest member on the team; Parker Tobin, Broncos’ goalie; Logan Hunter, right wing player; Stephen Wack, Broncos’ defenseman; Logan Boulet, player; Conner Lukan, forward; Evan Thomas, son of Scott Thomas, president of the Saskatoon Blazers hockey team; Jacob Leicht, left wing; and, most recently, Dayna Brons, athletic therapist and the only female on the bus.
Canadians recalled the victims’ character, future aspirations and, of course, love of hockey.
Haugan was an “incredible” coach, loving husband and father. “He talked about the fact that the Humboldt Broncos were about not building hockey players, but creating amazing young men,” said Broncos President Kevin Garinger, “and that was Darcy’s belief, and through that process they would’ve ultimately become great hockey players, too, which was also the case.”
Cross, who played in the SJHL for the Estevan Bruins, was only in his first season as assistant coach with the Humboldt Broncos. Fellow Bruins alumnus who competed in a national senior hockey championship Kyle Stroh spoke about Cross. “He was just a down-to-earth, give-the-shirt-off-his-back type of guy, the hardest worker I’ve ever met. He was kind of like a little brother to me and I kind of showed him the ropes a little bit.”
Doerksen’s son, Cameron, described his father as “a great family man” who loved his kids, his community and making people laugh. “He loved what he did. It wasn’t work for him,” reveals Cameron. “He loved to drive all those boys and he did it with a smile on his face.”
The small farm town of Allan, Saskatchewan, remembered Logan Schatz as the kindhearted, young man his family and community taught him to be. While at a Tim Horton’s drive-through in Humboldt, Logan bought himself a cup of coffee and paid for the bill of the vehicle behind him, showing kindness.
His mother, Kelly Schatz, saw the potential in him to be more than just a hockey player. “I always thought he’d become a sports commentator. He knew sports stats like no one else.”
Hinz came onboard as the Humboldt Broncos’ statistician with the help of Stacey Poss, through Big Brothers Big Sisters. Poss thought he would be a good fit for the role because of his love of numbers. More than the numbers though, for nearly a decade, Hinz volunteered at a local soup kitchen under coordinator James Folster’s guidance.
The community knew Hinz as a reliable, young man. “He was there. He was very, very super dependable. If you needed help from Brody, he would be there,” reflects Folster. “If he said he would meet you at 3 o’clock, he was there at 3 o’clock.”
The family of Herold decided they would still celebrate his birthday, who would have turned 17 on April 12. The family will celebrate by partaking in one his favorite activities: snowmobiling. Though Herold’s second home was on the ice, he loved spending time with his mother gardening, says his father. “People don’t know that side of him. He had a green thumb. He loved to garden.”
Last Monday, April 9, the coroner misidentified two of the junior hockey players involved in the fatal bus crash, according to the RCMP.
Xavier Labelle, originally listed among the deceased, is alive while Parker Tobin, listed among the survivors, died in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. The misidentification was emotionally distressing for the two families who mourned the loss of Tobin in solidarity. Xavier’s brother Isaac Labelle had been informed about his brother’s death while at the gym.
He received a text message about the bus collision and arrived at the hospital where his brother was taken. Labelle’s father said there didn’t appear to be any survivors. However, once he learned that his brother had survived, Isaac wrote a comment on his own Instagram page: “What we went through the last 2 days have been hell.”
Humboldt, a town of about 6000, has a long tradition of hosting players teams in the SJHL. The players, ranging from ages 16 to 21, come from different parts of Canada and live with host families for the duration for the season, according to the Broncos’ website. The Humboldt community and hockey team has since received overwhelming support from Saskatchewanians as well as Canadians far and wide.
Last Saturday, players of the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks teams had the “Broncos” name in place of their regular name bars on the back of their jerseys to pay tribute to the Humboldt Broncos. The NHL announcers honored the hockey team: “In hockey, we’ve learned that you don’t play for the name on the back of the jersey; you play for the crest on the front.”
Under the hashtag #PutYourSticksOut, Canadians across the nation and people from around the world pay tribute via social media to those lost in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash by leaving hockey sticks out on porches.
Being initially inspired by a high school friend who did the same, The Sports Network (TSN) broadcaster Brian Munz first started the trend on Twitter, urging his followers to leave their hockey sticks outside their houses or apartment balconies.
Munz received the following text and attached a photo of a hockey stick outside his home from a friend who started the #PutYourSticksOut tribute on Twitter: “Leaving it out on the porch tonight. The boys might need it….wherever they are.”
The TSN broadcaster then tweeted to followers, attaching the text and picture of the hockey stick: “Got this text from a friend who I went to high school with in Humboldt. Inviting you to do the same as we remember and send out thoughts to the #HumboldtBroncos. #PrayersForHumboldt #Broncostrong #Humboldtstrong #theSJHL #TSNHockey.”
Elementary and high school classes and individuals from the community from Canada and the United States have since tweeted under the #PutYourSticksOut hashtag to show their support for the Humboldt community.
Since then, the tribute has gone beyond Twitter. Sylvie Kellington, a Humboldt resident whose son played for the Broncos bantam A team last season, created a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the players and families affected in the bus crash. The crowdfunding campaign for the Humboldt Broncos has passed its initial goal of $4 million within its first two days.
An updated amount reveals that well over 122,000 people have donated from around the world for a total of over $10.5 million to the families affected by the fatal collision. The GoFundMe campaign is the largest Canadian campaign on the site and the third largest in the history of the site.
Additionally, WestJet Airlines has offered larger planes for flights that departed April 7 and 8 to accommodate the family members who needed to fly to Saskatoon to comfort relatives in the Humboldt area.
Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL player who survived the Swift Current Broncos bus crash of 1986, offered support during a news conference held at the Humboldt Broncos’ home arena. The 1986 bus crash, also in Saskatchewan, occurred when the Broncos’ bus, a mid-1960s Western Flyer D600 Canuck, lost control over a patch of black ice on Highway 1, flipping on its side and finally stopping in a ditch.
“We definitely didn’t know the impact of PTSD and mental health and the effects of trauma,” Kennedy explains. “32 years ago, we didn’t even talk about this. We know more today.”
Most recently, Canadians across the country wore sports jerseys or athletic gear on April 12 to show their support for the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
As a way to honor the Humboldt Broncos team, a group of hockey parents from British Columbia proposed the #JerseysforHumboldt initiative via Facebook. People have taken to Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to show their support for the Humboldt community.
From high school students at Attleboro High School (AHS) in Massachusetts to surprisingly Maple Leaf International School in Dalian, China, hockey lovers worldwide expressed their support for the Humboldt community.
The first funeral for the Humboldt Broncos bus crash victims was held April 12 for Tyler Bieber, the play-by-play radio announcer for the Saskatchewanian team and broadcaster for 107.5 Bolt FM.
“We know better [now] so we can do better,” reflects Kennedy. “We know the scars that last a lifetime are real. We have to be able to have something sustainable for those people that is long term. That’s what we learned coming out of the ’86 crash.”
Ryan Straschnitzki, a Broncos player who survived the crash, was paralyzed from the chest down. From Airdrie, Alberta, Straschnitzki views his survival as a second chance from God to do his part to improve the world in whichever way he finds suitable.
He expressed an interest in continuing his sports career in sledge hockey or becoming a public speaker. “We’re not alone here. I mean the teammates that we lost, our bond is so strong that we’ll always be together.” There is no shortage of love and support that Canadians, locally and nationally, and people worldwide have offered for the Humboldt community.