The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League will resume playoffs with the blessing of the Humboldt Broncos.
The league was in the difficult position of deciding how to proceed with its post-season after the Broncos team bus collided with a semi truck Friday, killing the head coach and 10 players among the 16 fatalities, and injuring 13 others.
The Broncos were heading to Nipawin for Game 5 of their semifinal series against the Hawks when the crash occurred at an intersection north of Tisdale.
The SJHL said in a statement on social media Wednesday that the Hawks and Estevan Bruins will play for the league’s championship trophy, the Canalta Cup, in a best-of-seven series starting Saturday in Nipawin.
"We had a gruelling decision to make with respects on how we can pay tribute and honour the Humboldt Broncos," SJHL president Bill Chow said in the statement.
"On behalf of the board of governors, this intensive decision has been made and that decision is to carry through and finish off the 2017-2018 season. The league will play hockey."
The Humboldt Broncos president wanted this year’s playoffs to go ahead.
"In my opinion, I think that hockey is important in our world, and it’s part of the healing process," Kevin Garinger told The Canadian Press.
"I think it’s important to recognize that it is part of the healing process for everyone involved in this tragedy."
The Hawks led the best-of-seven semifinal series 3-1 when the Broncos boarded the bus Friday to travel to Nipawin. Humboldt had lost 6-5 in triple overtime at home two days earlier.
Estevan closed out its semifinal series Friday against the Battlefords North Stars. The Bruins were awaiting a decision on whether they would play for a championship this season or not.
"We’ve met with the Broncos executive," SJHL chairman of the board Rick Schultz said prior to the league’s announcement Wednesday.
"Either way we go, I think there’s going to be people in favour of it and some people that aren’t in favour of our decision."
The 12-team junior ‘A’ SJHL is a league of players between the ages of 16 and 20.
Alumni who played in the NHL this season include Derek Dorsett (Vancouver), Chris Kunitz (Tampa Bay) and Jaden Schwartz (St. Louis).
Despite the devastation to the Broncos organization, Garinger wants Humboldt to ice a team in the SJHL in 2018-19.
"We’re going to continue right now to support our families and our loved ones," he said. "It’s imperative right now that our energies are focused there.
"We know that hockey is critical for our Humboldt Broncos family. We know that moving forward, it will take time but we fully expect that the Humboldt Broncos organization will be part of the 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League schedule. We will look toward that when the time is right to consider it."
The Saskatchewan Hockey Association has cancelled a bantam and midget SaskFirst Tournament this weekend in Regina, where 160 players would have gathered to showcase their skills for SJHL and Western Hockey League scouts.
The SHA said on its website the association wants players and families close to those impacted to be able to attend services.
"We sincerely hope that everyone involved understands the decision we have made and we ask that you keep the individuals from the Humboldt Broncos and the families in your thoughts and prayers," SHA general manager Kelly McClintock said in the statement.