As I write this article, it is less than 24 hours after the horrible bus tragedy in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. At this time, there have been 14 fatalities and another 16 critically injured. It is already the worst accident in the history of Hockey Canada and it can only get worse. The name of the Humboldt Broncos will always be associated with this grievous and horrible accident.
No matter what sport, as parents we have probably all sent our kids off to Provincials, games, meets or shows elsewhere, and like me, we all said a silent prayer for their safe return.
I have spent nearly 30 years of my life coaching hockey and I have spent most of those years riding busses and driving vans to get to tournaments and games all over BC. I have travelled in the dead of winter from Whitehorse to Nelson and from Victoria to Ft St John and all points in between. I have been blessed to have some of the best bus drivers that ever existed. The Bussy always had the last word if it was safe to go or if we had to cancel. Being the professionals that they were, they always made the safe call. Pokey, Stu, Jim, Mel, Vern and Cal were only a few of the Bussies who always brought us home safely, sometimes under some pretty dire circumstances and for that, they will have my everlasting respect and admiration.
Riding the “Iron Lung” was what built our teams and brought them closer together. There is an unwritten protocol in a hockey bus, and I assume it holds for other sports as well. The Coaches and a few brave parents were always in the front, quietly reading books or plotting lineups and strategies. The rookies always came next, shoved up front, close to the parents and usually forced to share a seat with another “Rook”. The Veterans rule the back of the bus, lounging together, iPod cords dangling, half asleep watching the bleak landscape roll by through half frozen windows. Sometimes a blackjack or poker game for pocket change helped pass the time between rinks and food breaks. Occasionally, a dedicated youngster would be doing his homework while it bounced on his lap because of the frozen roads. If you were lucky, the Bus had a bathroom and you didn’t have to “hold it” between bathroom breaks which never seemed to come often enough. As an adult coach, it was a good time to sit and talk and to get to know your players as more than athletes and it helped form a bond with them that last a lifetime.
Humboldt and Terrace are forever linked together. It was Humboldt that Terrace was up against as the two National finalists for Kraft Hockeyville 2009. History will record that we were able to edge them out and win the title, but I know they are just as passionate and just as proud as we were of our teams and our players.
At this time, it’s too soon to know what happened that caused the tragedy that broke Canada’s hearts in Saskatchewan on a cold April night. This is the most Canadian of tragedies. These were our young men, following their hockey dreams, and it was one of a thousand busses across the Country going somewhere on a dark night, all following the same dream and playing, coaching or watching the game we all love. The bus is their safe place, or it’s supposed to be.
From one Hockeyville to another, we send our love, our comfort and our tears to the players, parents and fans of the Humboldt Broncos. May you find comfort and solace in each other’s prayers. You will never be forgotten and may you always be #HumboldtStrong