Tragedy of Humboldt bus crash reverberates throughout hockey
At every level below the NHL, hockey players, coaches and team personnel spend a lot of time on buses.
That’s why the tragic crash of the Humboldt (Saskatchewan) Broncos team bus on Friday, April 6, in which at least 16 players and other personnel were killed and 13 were injured, is hitting the entire hockey community so hard.
According to police, 29 people, including the driver, were on the bus when the crash occurred around 5 p.m. on April 6 on Highway 35 in Saskatchewan. Witnesses say a semi T-boned the bus.
An investigation is under way. The Junior A Humboldt Broncos play in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and were on their way to a playoff game against the Nipawin Hawks.
“I want to send my thoughts and my prayers to the Humboldt hockey team, to the community, the entire province of Saskatchewan,” Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said on www.mlive.com after the team’s morning skate on Saturday at Little Caesars Arena. “I spent lots of time up there recruiting in my time, and I know how much that Junior League is a fabric of that province. I’m a father and I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
Former Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, now the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was almost in tears as he addressed the media about the crash after the Maple Leafs’ morning skate Saturday.
“I can’t even imagine being a parent, or the wife, or the kids at home going through something like this,” said Babcock, who grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Blashill rode many buses as a player at Ferris State University, and coach at various levels.
“You’re driving through the night lots of times, and you’re driving through bad weather conditions,” he said. “That doesn’t appear that this was either of those cases. Certainly, the reality of it is you’re not secured down like you are in a car. It’s a tragic, tragic thing.”
The Wings’ Tyler Bertuzzi said he learned of the crash on Twitter.
“Reading it, it’s sad to wake up to,” Bertuzzi said. “A lot of hockey players are sending their prayers to them and their families. It’s just a horrific thing.”
Bertuzzi, who played for the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League, knows the perils of traveling.
“I remember we were going to Owen Sound, and it was a snow storm,” he said. “Our bus kind of did a fish tail and we were lucky enough to stay on the highway.
“It’s scary. It’s things that you know happen and it’s tough to hear that. I’m just praying for the families.
“It could happen to anyone, especially in the OHL. There’s a lot of snow in a lot of the cities. You don’t stay in hotels. You’re always on the road, whether it’s a snow storm or not. It’s scary.”
A Go Fund Me account for Humboldt has raised almost $13.5 million. The original goal was $4 million.
Canadian Women’s hockey great Hayley Wickenheiser tweeted: “Didn’t sleep. Waves of grief. Played against several of these boys on the national team. What can we do? Well, not much now, but no reason we can’t raise a million. The families will all need it. Join me in donating.”
Even media members sometimes regularly ride on those buses. In fact, the Associated Press reported that a radio announcer for the team had also died in the crash.
In many of the cities with Major Junior Hockey teams, a sports writer from the local newspaper travels with the team on the bus. Former Hockey Weekly columnist Bob Duff did just that from 1984-1988, when he worked in Saskatoon and covered the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League.
During that time, the previous most infamous hockey bus crash occurred, also in Saskatchewan. That was on Dec. 30, 1986, when the team bus of the Swift Current Broncos crashed on Saskatchewan Highway 1 (the Trans Canada Highway), and four players were killed. One of the deceased was Brent Ruff, the younger brother of former NHL player and longtime NHL head coach Lindy Ruff, who is now an assistant coach with the New York Rangers.
Among the members of Swift Current who survived were Hockey Hall of Fame member Joe Sakic and former Red Wing Sheldon Kennedy. Another survivor was then beat writer Brian Costello, who has worked at The Hockey News since 1990.
Costello tweeted: “Sending strength and resolve to the community of Humboldt. My heart goes out to the loved ones of the victims.”
Said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement: “Our thoughts are with the players, families, coaches and team management and all those throughout the community that have been affected by the tragedy involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team.
“The NHL mourns the passing of those who perished and offers strength and comfort to those injured while traveling to play and be a part of a game they all love.”
Nashville Predators P.K. Subban tweeted: “My heart is heavy for all those impacted by the terrible tragedy in Saskatchewan. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.
“Tonight, when we play the last game of the regular season, we are all on ‘Team Broncos.’ ”