The home of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team has become a scene of mourning, support, and strength following a horrific bus crash that killed 15 on the team bus.
Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench, wearing a green and yellow team Broncos jersey, hugged people Saturday morning as they came to the Elger Petersen Arena in the eastern Saskatchewan town to comfort each other and learn more about the crash, which took place early Friday evening northeast of their community.
"It has hit us hard. We are a small community by most standards but the hockey team has always been a big part of our community," said Muench.
The crash killed head coach Darcy Haugan and team captain Logan Schatz. The names of others killed have not been confirmed.
Many people wandered in and out of the arena during the morning. Multiple crisis workers were assisting in a separate area.
Flowers were placed on the stairs in the rink stands. The railing were wrapped in yellow and green ribbon to honour the team.
The team, in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, was on its way to play in Game 5 of a semi-final playoff game against the Nipawin Hawks.
Darren Opp, president of the Hawks, said a semi T-boned the players’ bus.
The Broncos were to hold a news conference Saturday afternoon to update the tragedy.
The family of Ryan Straschnitzki confirmed the 18-year-old player survived but broke his back and can’t feel his lower extremities.
Kelly Schatz, Logan’s father, said his 20-year-old son played for the Broncos for just over four years and had served as team captain for the past two-and-a-half years.
He says the family is seeking solace in one another.
"It’s hard," Kelly Schatz said. "I’ve got four other kids and they’re here, which is nice."
Haugan’s wife, Christina George-Haugan, confirmed his death to The Canadian Press. Tributes poured in online for father of two who was described as an amazing mentor to young players.
"He will always be a great man in our hearts," his sister posted on Twitter under the name Debbie Jayne. "The tears just keep coming."
RCMP said initially that 28 people were on the bus and 14 were injured. Later Saturday, RCMP said 29 people were on the bus and 15 were sent to hospital. Three were in critical condition.
In Nipawin Saturday, a church which had been a place for families to gather while they awaited news of their loved ones was deserted, as was Centennial Arena, home of the Hawks.
Offers of help are pouring in for families of team members.
The mother of former NHLer Colby Armstrong tweeted that families could contact her if they needed a place to stay in Saskatoon.
Canalta Hotels were offering to take in family members of those affected. An online fundraising campaign set up for family members of the team had raised more than $260,000 Saturday morning.
Hockey teams and players from leagues across North America tweeted messages of support, many with the hashtag prayersforhumboldt.
"I cannot imagine what these parents are going through, and my heart goes out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy, in the Humboldt community and beyond," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Twitter late Friday.
Hundreds of people gathered Friday night at the Apostolic Church in Nipawin, waiting for information.
Broncos president Kevin Garinger says the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team includes players from Edmonton, Slave Lake and Airdrie in Alberta and from Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Garinger said the Broncos are a close-knit team from the small city of about 6,000 people 110 kilometres east of Saskatoon.
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 age of 16 and 20.
The crash has cruel echoes of 1986, when the Swift Current Broncos team bus crash slid off an icy highway and crashed in late December, killing four players.