After a handful of gut-wrenching hours, wondering if his nephew had survived the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, Mike Joseph went to bed relieved to hear Jaxon Joseph was alive.
Jaxon’s father, former NHLer Chris Joseph, was led to believe his son suffered head trauma, likely a concussion.
The news the next morning was devastating: Jaxon was, in fact, one of the crash’s 15 victims as of Saturday afternoon.
“To have faint hope that maybe, as terrible as the tragedy is, he somehow survived. That was about as a good a piece of news as you could imagine,” said Mike, reeling from news.
“To wake up and find out he didn’t make it is devastating. Chris and his wife (Andrea) had jumped in their truck right away (Friday night) and headed from Edmonton to Nipawin not knowing anything that was happening. The last conversation (Chris) had with someone was that Jaxon was in hospital in Saskatoon and we went to bed thinking everything was OK.”
Of all the emotions running through the Joseph family’s heads, Mike insists anger over the misinformation is not one of them.
“Everybody on scene was just trying to do their best,” said Mike.
“I don’t think anybody is pointing the finger of blame. From the picture I saw, it looks like all the boys dyed their hair (blond) so you can see how it could be confusing to identify people as part of the scene. I just goes to show how devastating and what the scene must have been like.”
Pictures of the twisted wreckage certainly help paint that picture.
It has long been a hockey tradition for players to dye their hair as part of a bonding experience, particularly before playoffs.
The Humboldt Broncos were on their way to Nipawin, Sask., to play Game 5 of their Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game late Friday afternoon when their bus was involved in a horrific collision with a semi-trailer outside Tisdale, Sask. The crash left 15 dead and 14 injured.
The scene was so chaotic police were unable to release details of those killed or injured well into the night, leaving families like the Josephs in limbo.
Late into Saturday morning, some details are still unconfirmed.
“It’s every parent’s nightmare. My brother’s and his wife’s whole world revolved around their kids,” said Mike. “It’s just so hard to fathom as his son was the star of the team and was having the best season ever as a 20-year-old and was loving it and was so happy. Now he’s gone and we’re just waiting for any updates from family and what to do next.”
Jaxon Joseph had been traded to Humboldt earlier in the season from Melfort.
Judy Wilkie has lived through that nightmare of just waiting for news, as her son, Bob, was involved in the Swift Current Broncos bus crash 31 years ago that killed four players.
“I can’t stop the tears today because I’ve been thinking about those parents waiting to hear. It’s got to be the hardest thing to not know.” said Judy, whose son had serious injuries but was able to walk out of the bus after sitting beside his four teammates who died.
“We got Bobby back and we’re thankful every day that we did. We knew he was alive because his billet was an RCMP officer who was one of the first on the scene and his wife went right to the hospital to be with Bob. That’s all we knew.”
One of the four victims that snowy day outside of Swift Current was Scotty Kruger, whose brother Darren has, like most Canadians, been rocked by the tragedy.
He gathered with Wilkie in Calgary on Friday, supporting one another and trying to think of ways they can offer their help to the families and hockey community grappling with this horror.
“It is tough,” said Kruger, who now scouts for the Calgary Flames.
“Not only did I lose a brother 30 years ago and knowing how devastating that is, but also some of these kids on that Humboldt team I watched in bantam.
“I know I scouted one of these kids in bantam, Layne Matechuk, and I sent the family a note, telling his mother and father I was thinking about them. He’s in critical but stable condition.”
Sheldon Kennedy, was also on that Swift Current bus, was also mourning with Wilkie and Kruger, and will soon head to Humboldt.
“I just got off the phone with the mayor’s office in Humboldt, asking if there’s anything I can do to help,” said Kennedy. “Wilks and I will head out there and I don’t care if I have to make sandwiches and hold doors open – it’s important for us to be there.”
It’s a powerful, tight-knit hockey community that is still looking for plenty of answers and information.
For now, they’re left to wrestle with the few answers and horrific news they do have.