TORONTO — It’s on those long bus rides that bonds are strengthened and dreams are seasoned for junior hockey players across Canada. They are rites of passage for those with NHL hopes, but for most they are the mobile birthplaces of lifelong memories forged.
So, on Friday, when the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Humboldt Broncos’ bus, which was headed for a game in Nipawin, Sask., collided with a truck, killing 15 and injuring another 14, bonds, dreams and memories were forever shattered and a pall washed over an entire nation in recognition of that.
The news hit hard for members of the Montreal Canadiens. On Saturday, in preparation for their final game of the NHL season in Toronto, some of them tried to put this unspeakable tragedy in perspective.
“I stand here and I’ve got shivers right now going down my body because you can just imagine what everybody’s going through right now,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “Not an easy day.”
“It’s terrible,” said Canadiens leading scorer Brendan Gallagher. “It hits home for a lot of people in the hockey community. Regardless of what level you play, you always go on these long bus trips—some of them overnight—and you don’t think of a scenario like that happening.”
Events like these bring the big picture into full view.
“You look at those things, and you take a step back, and you honestly tell yourself, ‘This is the big leagues, but it’s only a job, and there’s things that are way more important in life than what we do,’” said Julien.
Family and friends take precedence over all, and it goes without saying that anyone who knows of this tragedy is thinking about the parents of these 16-21-year-olds, of their extended families and of their friends right now.
It is a powerless feeling to know that nothing can be done to take away their pain.
“It just leaves you speechless,” said Canadiens defenceman Jordie Benn, who spent four years playing junior hockey in Victoria, B.C., as part of a smaller league in the BCHL, which is similar to the SJHL.
“It’s just shocking and so saddening,” said Canadiens forward Byron Froese, who grew up in Manitoba.
And it’s hard to fathom for men who rode those buses as kids and never seriously contemplated such devastating consequences as these.
“I’ve been on a 24-hour bus ride before,” said Benn. “It’s one of those things you don’t look forward to, but once you’re on the bus with the guys it’s awesome. Being a tight space like that, you get to know each other pretty well and pretty quick. It was a lot of fun, that’s for sure.
“Sure, you have stuff that runs through your head like how many times a bus has been cruising up a mountain in the snow and you’re looking over the side, but it’s just one of those tragic things you never think will happen. But it happened to Humboldt and it’s just crazy. I’m just at a loss for words.”
What can you say, if anything, that would comfort the three victims of this accident who have suffered critical injuries and are currently fighting for their lives? To their families and friends—and to the loved ones of those who perished? To an entire community in shock and in mourning? Nothing would be adequate.
“Whatever we can do, we’ll be a part of it and hopefully everyone will do the same thing,” Gallagher added. “I think everyone needs to help out, everyone needs to do something, and we’re no different. I think the hockey community will come together, be strong and do whatever we can do to lend a helping hand.”
One of the ways the Canadiens will do that is by donating to the gofundme campaign a resident of Humboldt created late on Friday.
Over $700,000 of the $800,000 goal has been met as of the time of this writing.
“Every single guy will be donating,” said Gallagher. “The whole team is doing it.”
And they—and we—will keep the Humboldt Broncos and everyone associated with them in our hearts.