Five weeks and three days. That’s how long it has been since a deadly bus crash involving a Canadian junior hockey league team devastated a small city in Saskatchewan and left a global community in mourning.
The Humboldt Broncos were en route to a playoff game on April 6 when their team bus carrying 29 people collided with a tractor-trailer on a rural highway. The crash killed 16 people: 10 players, two coaches, the team’s trainer, a volunteer statistician, a broadcaster and the bus driver. Thirteen people were injured. At least one player was left paralyzed from the chest down.
But the team will not be hanging up its skates any time soon.
In a statement posted Friday, the Broncos announced they are preparing to take the ice for the 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League season.
“There remains much to do to rebuild the team, therefore steps are now being taken to slowly return the club to routine hockey operations,” the statement said.
In the immediate aftermath of the crash, the organization’s leaders declined to publicly discuss whether the team would continue. It was a time to mourn, they said.
Outpourings of support came in from across the world. Professional hockey players wore jerseys with “Broncos” written across their backs and held moments of silence on the ice before games to remember the dead. Others left hockey sticks outside their homes as a tribute. Thousands of images of hockey sticks flooded social media, along with the hashtags #PutYourStickOut and #PutYourSticksOut, The Washington Post reported.
Part of the team’s rebuilding process includes searching for a new head coach and general manager. Darcy Haugan, who had held the positions, was killed in the bus crash. In the statement, Humboldt Broncos President Kevin Garinger praised Haugan.
“Darcy Haugan was selfless, inspirational and motivating, building up his players to be great ambassadors and role models both on the ice and in the community,” Garinger said. “He was the coach every player wanted, and that other coaches wanted to emulate.”
Garinger added that in the role of general manager, Haugan “made smart decisions and was driven to ensure the Broncos organization succeeded in every aspect of its operations.”
“He took our team to new heights — it will be incredibly difficult to find someone that can rise to his standards,” Garinger said.
The team is also looking to add to its roster. Eighty prospective players will attend an invitation-only camp scheduled for May 25-27, the statement said.
The news comes as individual players and families are attempting to piece their lives back together. In the weeks since the crash, scores of inspirational stories have emerged about injured players who are defying the odds on their paths to recovery.
Last month, just hours after Ryan Straschnitzki got out of surgery and found out that he is paralyzed from the chest down, the Broncos defenseman set the lofty goal of one day competing on an Olympic sledge hockey team, his father told the Calgary Herald.
Straschnitzki told the Calgary Herald a few weeks later that his physiotherapy was going well and reported being able to sit up for an hour and a half at a time. But sitting up isn’t enough for Straschnitzki, who said he hopes to one day walk again.
“Some people have said I won’t be able to, but I kinda want to prove them wrong,” he said. “Each day just do something more and more, you know, sit in the chair longer, try and sit up longer, just little things like that.”
Another Broncos player, Xavier LaBelle, is also still recovering from his injuries. After the crash, LaBelle had been mistakenly listed as among the dead. A few days later, the coroner’s officer said that LaBelle was alive and that it was his teammate Parker Tobin who had died, The Washington Post reported.
In a Facebook post last week, LaBelle’s family thanked the public for its support. “Xavier is healing from his multiple injuries,” said the message, which included a photo of LaBelle in physical therapy, smiling and walking while holding onto bars for support.
Although being on the ice again may seem like a distant dream for many of the surviving Broncos, one injured player could be skating with a college team by the end of the year.
On Friday, Kaleb Dahlgren, 20, who was injured in the crash, committed to playing college hockey for York University in Toronto, according to Sportsnet.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Dahlgren said his goal is to attend the university this fall. But that will depend on his recovery.
Dahlgren sustained a fractured skull, a puncture wound in his head, a brain injury, and six broken vertebrae in his neck and back, Sportsnet reported.
The university, Dahlgren said, has assured him he can begin whenever his body is ready.
Aside from signaling an incredible comeback, Dahlgren’s decision to sign with York University holds particular significance for the Broncos community. He will follow in the footsteps of the team’s assistant coach, Mark Cross, who died in the crash. Cross played at the university from 2011 to 2016, according to the school’s athletics page.
“I have dreamed about and worked hard for this since I was 9 years old,” Dahlgren said. “Reaching this goal has always driven me on and off the ice, however it has taken on a new importance since April 6, 2018: to play hard and live for my fellow teammates, for my coaches, including Mark Cross, who played hockey for York for 5 years … for everyone who lost their life that day, and for all those whose lives have been forever changed by the Broncos tragedy.”
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