Sedins’ farewell can’t cut through sorrow of Humboldt tragedy

Daniel and Henrik Sedin played the final games of their careers as the Edmonton Oilers needed a shootout to edge the Vancouver Canucks 3-2.

EDMONTON – On the night when both were here to celebrate something special, captains Henrik Sedin and Connor McDavid stood shoulder to shoulder, not in joy but in sorrow.

Even at terrible times – perhaps especially in our worst hours – hockey possesses the power to help bring us together as a country. So, too, did it bind the Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers on Saturday to mourn the horrific loss of young lives when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team to a playoff game in Saskatchewan was sheared in half Friday when broadsided by a tractor-trailer on a rural highway.

Canucks Hank and Danny Sedin played the final game of their brilliant National Hockey League careers at Rogers Place, where the Oilers’ McDavid had two assists in Edmonton’s 3-2 shootout win and was crowned the 2017-18 scoring champion.

In time, these things will seem more significant. But they hardly mattered a day after 15 people, including nine Broncos players between the ages of 16 and 21, perished and several others were critically injured during what was supposed to be a two-hour, daylight drive from Humboldt to Nipawin in northeastern Saskatchewan.

As happened in several other NHL cities, players from the Canucks and Oilers stood together with referees and linesmen around the centre circle for a quiet pre-game moment to acknowledge one of the darkest events in Canadian hockey history.

There was utter silence inside Rogers Place as players bowed their heads. With 18,347 fans inside the stadium, the only sound was the whir of the arena’s air-conditioning system.

Until Friday afternoon’s tragedy, these fans would have looked forward to celebrating something at the end of a season that has been bleakly disappointing for the Canucks and, especially, the Oilers. Many of the fans in Vancouver jerseys had travelled from B.C. to witness the Sedins’ final game, after the greatest players in Canucks history announced last Monday their imminent retirement.

But there were not the electric, titanic emotions that coursed through the Canucks’ 4-3 win against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday when the Sedins conjured the winning goal in overtime in their final appearance as players in Vancouver.

On Saturday there was only an undeniable sadness for most of the game, although Edmonton fans and Oiler players honoured the Sedins with applause and handshakes after Oiler Leon Draisaitl won a shootout that also featured a goal by Daniel.

"From yesterday to today, it’s been on our mind for sure," Danny Sedin said of the junior hockey tragedy. "We’ve all been on those bus rides and you think you’re safe on that bus. And then something like this happens and it shatters everything. This game was tough after what happened yesterday. The crowd showed a lot of support, and in the end the Edmonton team and their fans were really respectful."

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The Sedins, who maintained control of their emotions for most of this week’s three-game farewell tour, hugged their children at the Canucks’ bench, invited there by Vancouver coach Travis Green to watch the shootout.

Henrik Sedin spent several seconds consoling his youngest son, Harry.

"No, I was in tears; I don’t know about him," Henrik said. "Once we saw our kids on the bench, I think that’s when the emotions came. But it feels good. It was the right decision to do it this way even though we were hesitant to do it."

The Oilers held the Sedins pointless in their final games: No. 1,330 for Henrik, 1,306 for Daniel.

McDavid’s two assists gave him 108 points for the season, six more than Philadelphia Flyer Claude Giroux.

"When I had to chase McDavid on that four-on-four, that was it," Daniel said. "It’s a fast league now. I think we can still play, but I think it’s time for the young guys to take over.

"Afterwards, you realize it’s over. Even last game at home, we still had one game left. Tonight was a lot tougher. We tried to talk (to the team) after the game, but there wasn’t much we could say. We’ll try to talk to the guys tomorrow."

Everyone in the receiving line on the ice and at the benches seems to have something to say to the twins.

"I told them it was an honour to be in the best league in the world with them," Edmonton coach Todd McLellan said. "I’ll always remember their passing. But the way they carried themselves off the ice, I don’t think they get enough credit."

The crowd stood and cheered for the Sedins when a video tribute was shown inside the arena during the first television timeout.

But, overall, the atmosphere was so muted until overtime that the game had a surreal quality.

For those old enough to remember, Friday’s disaster had haunting echoes of the bus crash in 1986 that that killed four Swift Current Bronco players.

"It took me back to 1986," Canucks president Trevor Linden, who was then a rookie on the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, said before Saturday’s game. "But I’m looking at this one through a different set of eyes. As a 16-year-old kid, I went to the memorial in Swift Current and it was a terrible tragedy. But as a kid, you have a sense of invincibility.

"I never thought twice about getting back on the bus. We’d climb under the seats, go to sleep, drive all night, wake up and go to school. Now, I think about the parents, the billets, the families involved and all that incredible pain. It’s devastating to think of the number of lives lost. Hockey touches everyone. For the whole province of Saskatchewan, for the whole country of Canada, this touches everyone."

It certainly touched the Canucks and Oilers.

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