HUMBOLDT, Sask. — The big, green Dome Productions TV truck that had sat behind Elgar Petersen Arena here these past few days was packed and back on the highway. Locals who somehow found the wherewithal to coordinate and satisfy a national media deluge this weekend can stand down now, as a hockey country shifts slowly away from the tragic events of Humboldt to the dreams of the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs.
It was a time for public grief at Sunday night’s vigil, and it was a time Monday morning — with schools closed in Humboldt — for the families who had people on that bus to close their ranks.
And as the GoFundMe page started by quiet hero Sylvie Kellington chugged towards $5 million dollars on Monday, they hit “send” on a news release at the Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice:
They had misidentified one of the dead.
Xavier Labelle, an 18-year-old from Saskatoon whose picture had been spread across the across the world as one of the dead, was in fact alive. And Parker Tobin, also 18 but from Stony Plain, Alberta, had died.
It was a mistake that can happen, and we won’t spend time trying to figure out why. Coroners make mistakes, and truckers make mistakes. And when the lights come down at Elgar Petersen Arena and the Prime Minister and Don Cherry go home, what remains is not to figure out why these mistakes occur, but how to live on through their consequences.
Dulcie Kirzinger, both a wife to and mother of a Broncos alum, wore her family’s No. 20 jersey to the Sunday night vigil. She is old Humboldt, and has a mother’s eye for what will come next around here.
Was Sunday’s vigil the beginning of the healing process?
“It’s not the start,” she said, reluctantly. “There will be healing, but, they’re just reeling from the losses right now.
“I thought the pastor spoke quite well, through his tears,” she said. “It’s just darkness, and I think that’s what they’ll feel for a long time before they feel any kind of healing.
“All those young men, in the prime of their lives.”
Both of her men pulled on that Broncos jerseys in their own prime years, and it’s they who take this story back inside that Broncos dressing room to find the strength these families will require in the coming weeks and months.
Matthew Kirzinger was a Bronco from 2006-09, winning a Royal Bank Cup for Humboldt. Today he is a pilot for Westjet, the airline that generously flew families here for the weekend free of charge.
“I was in a hotel room [Saturday] night in Kamloops, and I turned on the hockey game,” said 30-year-old Matthew. “I haven’t watched a lot of hockey in the past couple of years, but the Jets were playing, and they had our logo on their helmets.
“Seeing that Broncos name on the backs of those jerseys, it just ripped your heart right out of your chest. And it was just time to go home.”
Growing up in nearby Leroy, a tiny town that lies a half hour down Highway 5, the dream didn’t get any bigger than making the Broncos.
“I remember seeing pictures of my Dad playing, in news articles that my Mom had saved from a long time ago,” said Matthew, shortly after every Broncos alum at the vigil had encircled the logo at centre ice for a group picture. “To be on that ice, to see those flowers at the end of the night here, and think about the loss. … And at the same time to be arm in arm with some of my best friends. I look over and see my Dad wearing the same jersey as me …
“I can’t even describe it.”
So this — as we pack the truck and move on ourselves to a playoff series in Winnipeg — is what we’ll leave you with:
We play sports, and we put our children into sports, for many reasons, but a primary one is this: sports gives you a dry run at tough times like these. Sports teaches us what it’s like to lose things that we wanted to have, how to act when we win and how to deal with the feelings that come with a loss.
The losses can feel devastating, the wins life-changing, but really they’re not. The beauty is, we learn those lessons in an arena that has far less gravity than the one we’ve experienced here this weekend.
Matthew said he remembers the year of his Broncos championship loss (2009) ahead of the championship win in 2008, so indelible is the mark left by battling that long with teammates, only to be denied in the end. But he learned as much about life in ’08 as he did in ’09, and Sunday, in our short conversation, he struck me as a grounded, thoughtful man who will become a leader in whichever community that he settles.
In Humboldt, the Broncos have churned out the Matthew Kirzingers over the years. Now, they’re going to need all of them to get through this.
“When you play on that team, you are a team,” said Matthew’s father John, a Bronco in the mid-70s. “And the guy behind you or in front of you? You’re working together. They’ve got your back.
“This community, it’s a team — it’s just a bigger team. It’s a little different shape, but it’s still a team,” he said. “All those supports you have within that hockey team? Those supports are there within the larger group.
“It’s still a team.”