Returning Humboldt Broncos players Brayden Camrud (26) and Derek Patter (23) hug as they take part in the pregame ceremony before playing the Nipawin Hawks in the SJHL season home opener Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. The Humboldt Broncos were playing their first game since a bus crash claimed 16 lives in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Humboldt Broncos emerge from tragedy

Junior hockey squad returns to ice for first game since tragic bus crash

HUMBOLDT, Sask. — The Humboldt Broncos emerged from tragedy Wednesday night, launching a new hockey season with the help of many of the players who survived the team’s deadly bus crash in April.

Eight of the surviving players dropped the puck in the ceremonial faceoff of the club’s first regular-season game since 16 were killed five months ago.

Two others suited up and played.

The Broncos fell 2-1 to the Nipawin Hawks, last year’s Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champions, but though it was a night marked by sadness, there was also celebration.

Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter were both in the game, the only two players who were in the crash and are back on the Broncos this season.

Kaleb Dahlgren, who is now playing university hockey in Ontario, said it was important to be there.

“I think it is a step in the healing process for sure,” he said. “Tonight definitely helps heal the wounds but it won’t for sure heal everything. There is still lots that need to be done.”

RELATED: ‘It’s a road trip that we never finished

RELATED: Bus crash survivor still has a long recovery ahead

Some of their injuries were still apparent.

Xavier Labelle, who was initially mistaken as being among the dead, has a large scar running across his forehead down to his eye.

Goaltender Jacob Wassermann used a wheelchair to get onto the ice.

Patter and Camrud shared a brief hug after they skated onto the ice as the crowd stood and cheered. Camrud overcame a severe concussion, loss of feeling in one of his arms and neck issues.

Many family members were also there.

Dahlgren’s dad, Mark, was struck by the tribute photos outside the arena as he and his son pulled up.

“I just saw all the pictures of the people that passed on the bus and I just looked over at him and said: ‘Sure glad your picture’s not up there,’” he said. “We’re the lucky ones and we don’t take it for granted. Every day we are appreciative to have him with us.”

His son said it felt different pulling up to the rink and not playing.

“It felt like I moved on, onto the next chapter. I’m in university now and I’m on that hockey team now,” he said. “It’s a new chapter for me and it’s a new chapter for this team.”

But the game was difficult for at least one of the players who suffered lifelong injuries in the crash.

Former Broncos player Ryan Straschnitzki, who was paralyzed from the chest down in the crash, opted not to watch the season opener in person. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to watch the game on TV even though it’s been on his mind.

“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.”

Tom Straschnitzki said he understands why his son might be hesitant.

“He should be playing in this home opener today as with the other players,” he said. “It’s a difficult day.”

Humboldt Mayor Robert Muench said he thinks the game marks a step forward for his small city.

“I think people were … really looking forward to the season getting going and seeing the new team and seeing the results of a lot of work from a lot of people getting the team back on the ice,” he said.

“In my mind, it’s kind of a new page, a new chapter in the book I guess moving forward as a community and as a team.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was to watch the game in Saskatoon, said all of Canada was cheering for the Broncos.

“To the people of Humboldt, know that we are with you. Know that we will continue to support you as you heal,” Trudeau said earlier in the day.

“You have us and 37 million fans cheering you on.”

The opponents Wednesday were the Hawks — the same team the Broncos were travelling to face the night of the crash.

The Broncos will board a bus again Friday and head to Nipawin for a rematch.

Jamie Brockman, president of the Broncos, said the team is grateful for all the support it has received from across Canada and the world.

“We’re going to find out what our new normal is after today,” he said. “Hockey is back in Humboldt. We are strong and we are going to survive and we are going to move forward.”

The Broncos lost their coach, Darcy Haugan, in the crash. Former NHLer Nathan Oystrick takes his place.

“It’s a great day to be a Bronco, gentlemen” — something Haugan often told his players — is now inscribed outside the team’s dressing room.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Returning Humboldt Broncos player Brayden Camrud (26) hugs former teammate Jacob Wassermann during a pregame ceremony before playing the Nipawin Hawks in the SJHL season home opener Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. The Humboldt Broncos were playing their first game since a bus crash claimed 16 lives in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Just Posted

Repen: FOI data proves Telkwans being ripped off by ICBC

Former Telkwa mayor received a response from ICBC and says the results don’t look good for residents

Rene Fagan manslaughter case adjourned

Accused to meet with counsel before next date

Murder trial pushed back to September

In-depth psychological assessment of accused was ordered during pre-trial

Canada’s first all-women Taiko group leads drumming workshop in Terrace

Sawagi Taiko was founded during the women’s movement

Fires still burning near Telegraph Creek

BC Wildfire Service assures residents of a proactive plan heading into wildfire season

Dashcam captures close call between minivan, taxi at busy Vancouver intersection

To make the footage more nerve-wracking, a pedestrian can be seen standing at the corner

Waste not: Kootenay brewery leftovers feed the local food chain

Spent grains from the Trail Beer Refinery are donated to local farmers and growers, none go to waste

Deck collapses in Langley during celebration, 35 people injured

Emergency responders rushed to the Langley home

B.C. mom wages battle to get back four kids taken from her in Egypt

Sara Lessing of Mission has help from Abbotsford law firm

VIDEO: Fire guts Peachland home

Crews are still on scene pumping water onto the blaze in the Okanagan neighbourhood

$6K raised in one day’s time for family of woman gunned down in Penticton

GoFundMe launched for family of Darlene Knippelberg, to pay for funeral costs and other expenses

B.C. mountain biker sent home from hospital twice, despite broken vertebrae

Released in Maple Ridge to go home with three fractured vertebrae

Seven tips to travel safely this Easter long weekend

An average of three people are killed, and hundreds more injured, each Easter long weekend in B.C.

Seattle’s 4-20 ‘protestival’ enjoys tolerance, some support – and B.C. could do the same

Seattle’s Hempfest a large-scale occasions with vendors, prominent musical acts and thousands of attendees

Most Read