There was a bit of precious normalcy Wednesday night in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, where a hockey game offered some a little relief and a huge emotional boost.
Two survivors of the horrific bus crash that claimed the lives of 10 of their Humboldt Broncos teammates played in their first Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League game since their bus collided with a semi tractor-trailer last April. The crash killed six others: two coaches, the trainer, a volunteer statistician, a broadcaster and the bus driver and 13 people were injured. On Wednesday night, Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter, the only passengers that day who are back with the team, played in a game that was televised without commercials in Canada and the United States.
“The first shift was intense, with a lot of emotions,” Camrud told TSN after the first period.
Photos of those who died were displayed along the entrance to Elgar Petersen Arena and 16 hockey sticks tied with green and yellow ribbons were outside by a green bench that bears the words: “Always in our hearts. 29 on the fateful ride, 16 souls died.” A favorite expression of their coach, Darcy Haugan, is displayed outside the locker room: “It’s a great day to be a Bronco, gentlemen.”
Both players and survivors were part of a ceremonial faceoff with goalie Jacob Wassermann using a wheelchair on the ice. “We’re going to find out what our new normal is after today,” team president Jamie Brockman said (via the Associated Press). “Hockey is back in Humboldt. We are strong and we are going to survive and we are going to move forward.”
Camrud suffered a severe concussion, loss of feeling in one of his arms and neck injuries in the crash and he and Patter hugged briefly. “I think it’s a step in the healing process for sure,” Kaleb Dahlgren, a survivor who is playing college hockey in Ontario, said. “Playing tonight definitely helps heal the wounds, but it won’t for sure heal everything. There’s still lots that need to be done.”
For others, the reunion was too painful. Ryan Straschnitzki was paralyzed from the chest down in the crash and chose not to be in the arena. “It’s not my team anymore,” he said. “I wish them the best of luck, but it’s not my team and it’s going to be hard to watch knowing that I should be out there.”
Christina Haugan, the coach’s widow and mother of two sons, pointed out that the ceremony and return to hockey may have marked normalcy, but it didn’t offer closure. “Darcy is gone regardless,” she told Regina’s CKRM earlier this week, “and for us it has to be a personal journey that isn’t tied closely to hockey.”
She admitted that she wasn’t “totally sure” what to expect, but she knew it would be difficult. “We did watch them play an exhibition game in Peace River [her husband’s hometown], which was a hard day seeing them step on the ice and not seeing Darcy behind the bench. Not having him behind the bench like he should be will be incredibly hard and emotional, but we will do it like we have all the other steps in the journey and take it one moment at a time.”
Humboldt put up 40 shots on goal, but Nipawin, the defending league champion, won 2-1.
“For our first game together, it was a pretty strong effort,” Patter told TSN.
On Friday, the Humboldt team will climb aboard a bus for a two-hour ride to a rematch in Nipawin.
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