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Individuals, communities respond to Humboldt tragedy

By Blake Sittler


Photo by Blake Sittler

HUMBOLDT, Sask. — The April 6, 2018, accident involving a semi-trailer truck and a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos, coaches, staff, and play-by-play announcer is both a devastating loss for many families of a son, a husband, a father, a friend, and a cataclysmic loss for the broader community.

The outpouring of love and support has been overwhelming.

The Humboldt Broncos are part of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL). Every team in the league has offered some form of sympathy and support.

Every player and coach knows the camaraderie of riding the bus from game to game. Those bus rides are like cocoons of time during which players listen to music, watch movies, sleep, talk about the past or upcoming tournaments, and where, through the sharing of stories, friendships and bonds are formed that often last for decades.

Lynda and Cal Statchuk of Wadena know what it is like to send their sons on the road on a bus in the winter. Two of their sons, Travis and Michael, played AAA Midget Hockey.

“A team becomes a family,” Lynda said. “The bus becomes a bonding place.”

“The parents see each other often at games at home and on the road,” Cal added. “They become part of this family who will go the extra mile for each other.”

In the NHL, every team playing over the weekend made some effort to show that they were thinking of the Broncos. Some offered moments of silence and others, like the Blackhawks, wore the word “Broncos” on their jerseys. Many teams and arenas are offering the 50/50 proceeds toward the Broncos. Internationally, at a game in Sweden, the two opposing teams stood on the blueline, arm-in-arm, for a moment of silence.

But this was not just a hockey tragedy; it was a human tragedy, with support and condolences from every corner of the planet, including Queen Elizabeth II, Pope Francis, and U.S. President Donald Trump.

At an afternoon service at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon, Bishop Mark Hagemoen read the message from Pope Francis sent by the Vatican Secretary of State: “Informed of the injury and tragic loss of life caused by the road traffic accident in the province of Saskatchewan involving young hockey players, His Holiness Pope Francis sends his condolences to those who have lost loved ones, and commends the souls of the deceased to the mercy of Almighty God. To all in the community at this difficult time Pope Francis sends his blessing.”

On other fronts, businesses offered their services, airlines offered free flights, and hotels offered free accommodations to those coming into town to be with family.

Flags were lowered to half-mast all across the province at city halls, cathedrals and fire halls.

A Go-fund-me account was set up to collect donations to help families get through the next few months. Organizers hoped to raise $10,000. The account currently stands at over $7 million and rising.

“That type of figure is staggering,” Bronco’s president Kevin Garinger said in Sunday’s press conference. “We will be ensuring that these dollars go out respecting first and foremost every one of the families that have been part of this tragedy.”

Holy Spirit Parish in Saskatoon, like many others, opened their doors for people to come together to offer silent prayers.

While the largest vigil was held in Humboldt, prayer services for the victims and families were held all across the province. One in Birch Hills attracted some 150 people, where 15 candles were placed across a hockey net, one for each victim.

Another was held in Lloydminster. In attendance was radio personality Kurt Price. “What really stood out for me was how comforting it was to see so many familiar faces,” Price said. “The community here celebrates together and it grieves together.”

Mourners pray during an April 8 vigil at Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, to honor members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team who were killed in a fatal bus accident. (CNS photo/Jonathan Hayward, Reuters)

Price had another connection to the tragedy as a broadcaster. “I was at a dinner theatre on Friday night when the news broke and we started to hear some preliminary numbers. I immediately thought of Tyler Bieber (the Humboldt broadcaster killed in the crash),” recalled Price. “I know so many people just like him, and I feel I knew him.”

Price described people like Bieber who broadcast hockey games as community oriented people who do not broadcast to get rich, but for the love of the game and the family that forms around the team.

“None of those people had to be on that bus, but every one of them wanted to be there,” he said. “I wanted to be around my extended family tonight, my community.”

“I’ve been thinking about him (Bieber) and all of those young men all weekend. The vigil tonight I hope starts the healing,” Price concluded. “I know it won’t make the pain end for anyone overnight, but we come together to start.”

Vice-president of Red Cross in Saskatchewan, Cindy Fuchs, said in a radio interview: “The Canadian Red Cross has been activated by the government of Saskatchewan. who have asked us to have our volunteers on the ground, offering comfort and support.”

Saskatoon city councilor Cynthia Block tweeted that people were lining up to donate blood at Canadian Blood Services. She noted that they were actually having to turn locals away and were only accepting people who were from out of town.

Jackie Saretsky, co-ordinator of hospital chaplaincy for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, was in the midst of preparing a daylong Dying Healed workshop when the accident happened. “We have names and we’re getting connected with some of the players and families,” said Saretsky. “The hospital staff has been good about letting us offer our time.”

“Some of the chaplains have set up a space on the fourth floor (of Royal University Hospital) where families can come to ask for prayers and talk,” continued Saretsky. “This is the beauty of this ministry being connected to the hospital.”

Saretsky was also offered prayer shawls and was told that one was included for each of the players and families with a personal note. The prayer shawls were forwarded by spiritual support staff at the Humboldt hospital.

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