The Humboldt Broncos are a close-knit team from the small city of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, which has a population of about 6,000. Many gathered at the community center at the hockey arena there after word of the horrific crash began to circulate.
Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench, wearing a green and yellow Broncos team jersey, hugged people Saturday morning as they came to the Elger Petersen Arena in the Saskatchewan town to comfort each other and learn more.
“It’s overwhelming. It’s been tough on everybody,” Muench said in a phone interview. “We’re a small community; some of those kids have been on the team for a number of years. A lot grew up in the community and everybody knows each other.”
The team was on its way to play in Game 5 of a semi-final against the Nipawin Hawks.
“Hockey was what brought us all together and we had two communities that were rivals in the rink. To find out that it was their first responders that aided our boys just warms your heart,” the mayor said as his voice cracked.
Multiple crisis workers were assisting relatives and friends.
“Everybody is just so devastated. These poor young boys,” said Penny Lee, the communications manager for the town of Humboldt
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League is a junior ‘A’ hockey league under Hockey Canada, which is part of the Canadian Junior Hockey League. It’s open to North American-born players between the ages of 16 and 20.
Team President Kevin Garinger said parents from across western Canada were struggling to cope with the tragedy and were rushing to the scene.
“Our whole community is in shock, we are grieving and we will continue to grieve throughout this ordeal as we try to work toward supporting each other,” he said.
Michelle Straschnitzki, who lives in Airdrie, Alberta, said her 18-year old son Ryan was transported to a hospital in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
“We talked to him, but he said he couldn’t feel his lower extremities so I don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I am freaking out. I am so sad for all of the teammates and I am losing my mind.”
Garinger said he still didn’t know the fate of one of the players living in his home.
“We don’t know who has passed and we don’t expect to know right away,” he said.
Garinger said all the team can do now is help the players and their families.
“We just need to try to support each other as we deal with this incredible loss to our community, to our province, to our hockey world.”
Kevin Henry, a coach who runs a hockey school in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, said he knows players on the team.
“This is I would think one of the darkest days in the history of Saskatchewan, especially because hockey is so ingrained in how we grow up here,” he said.
Much of the hockey world issued messages of condolences, including National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman and Saskatchewan native Mike Babcock, who is the Toronto Maple Leafs coach.
Babcock said that “it’s got to rip the heart out of your chest.”