It’s hard to come to grips with the tragic aftermath of a bus accident in Saskatchewan that claimed 16 lives a week ago.
The collision between a semi truck and a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos of the SJHL en route to a playoff game has devastated the province, the country and hockey communities all across the world.
It is a national tragedy that hits close to the heart for many different reasons.
Hockey is part of the Canadian national identity.
It’s a sport that has woven it’s way into history, whether it be on the international stage with the Summit Series, the Olympic Games, at the National Hockey League level through dynasties with the Montreal Canadiens or the Edmonton Oilers.
Even on smaller scales at all junior levels across the country, fans live and breathe by their local hockey clubs.
It’s a sport that binds and unites us through our passion and our fandom of the game.
But it’s not just about being a fan of a particular NHL team; it’s the appreciation of the journey that players take as they grow and develop, both in their hockey skills but also maturing from youth into young adults.
From early morning hockey practices to hours on the lake or homemade backyard rinks, hockey is a universal Canadian pastime.
Who hasn’t envisioned themselves scoring the overtime game-winning goal of Game 7 in the Stanley Cup finals, raising their sticks towards the sky and hoisting the imaginary Cup in victory over the neighbourhood kids?
During those younger years, whether it’s a house league or a travelling development team, there’s usually bus travel involved.
And that speaks to the shattered connections to this tragedy; that regardless of sport, teams travelling on a bus to neighbouring communities for games or tournaments is a shared universal experience.
The bus is a sacred bonding place for teammates who spend long hours in close quarters watching the same movies over and over, playing cards and doing whatever it takes to kill time over the miles of road trips.
It’s a place of safety, friendship and community — a place that was violated and broken on a rural Saskatchewan highway.
And we all hurt because of it.
That is evident in how a fundraising campaign has gone viral, topping $10 million for the families of the victims, the survivors and the Broncos organization.
That is evident in how hockey clubs in leagues across the continent have reacted with moments of silence and vigils and pregame ceremonies.
That is evident in how people are leaving a hockey stick outside their homes in memory of the team and their staff, in case someone needs a stick for one more game.
That is evident in how people responded to Jersey Day on April 12 because it was impossible to go out in public without seeing a hockey jersey in schools and workplaces as people honoured their memory.
It’s humbling how such a small gesture can mean so much and serve as catharsis, whether it’s on a televised national broadcast or in a quiet moment inside a Cranbrook arena.
Decked out in jerseys of green and gold — the colours of the Humboldt Broncos — a group of guys who like to skip out of work on Friday mornings stood in support and solidarity with a brief but moving moment of reflection at the Memorial Arena.
Kevin Ewaskow, who serves as pastor at First Baptist Church and also as the Kootenay Ice chaplain, is no stranger to the game and the hockey lifestyle having played through his youth and at the college level.
In a silent arena, empty save for the 20 players standing in a circle at centre ice, Ewaskow drew on his experiences in hockey and as pastor to emphasize the importance of honouring not just the Broncos, but showing support for, and investing in, the lives of people who cross our paths every day.
Following a prayer for comfort and courage for those who are mourning, the puck was dropped and everyone was grateful for the opportunity to play the game they love and to never take it for granted.
I’ll leave with this:
The Sports Network (TSN) posted a video of Canadian singer-songwriter Tom Cochrane performing ‘Big League’ — a staple song in hockey arenas everywhere.
It’s a catchy tune with a darker lyrical undertone about a promising young hockey player whose life is cut short because of a highway car accident.
In a powerful and heartbreaking solo rendition, Cochrane had rewritten one of the verses in honour of the Humboldt Broncos.
“All the right moves when he turned 18.
Ridin’ to the game and ridin’ with his team.
Ridin’ with their friends and ridin’ for their dreams.
Ridin’ off to immortality in the big league.”