By Dave Leaderhouse
The National Hockey League’s support of the Humboldt Broncos continued on Friday when prior to the annual entry draft it was announced that the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League club was named as recipients of the EJ McGuire Award of Excellence.
In presenting the award NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says the honour is bestowed on those who exemplify commitment for excellence, strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism – core values of the late EJ McGuire who was a long-time scout and coach in the game.
Broncos’ president Kevin Garinger was on hand to accept the award with everyone in the American Airlines Arena in Dallas standing and applauding loudly to show their continued support for the team that is recovering from the tragic accident in early April when 16 members were killed and 13 others were injured after their bus collided with a transport truck enroute to a playoff game in Nipawin.
“I accept this on behalf of a great leader from the Humboldt Broncos organization, head coach and general manager – the heart and soul of our organization – Mr. Darcy Haugen” said Garinger in reference to the late coach who perished in the accident. “I accept this on behalf of his assistant coach Mark Cross, his trainer Dayna Brons and the other staff and 10 athletes who are also no longer with us.”
“This is also for the 13 others still with us,” added Garinger. “These people are true leaders, both on and off the ice.”
This is the second time in three days that the NHL has recognized the Humboldt Broncos as on Wednesday in Las Vegas, 10 of the surviving members, along with Haugen’s wife Christina, accepted the inaugural Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award at the annual awards banquet.
The McGuire award wasn’t the only recognition given to the Broncos on Friday as Haugen’s two children, Jackson and Carson, were runners for the Calgary Flames at the draft. Dressed in Flames jerseys the Haugen boys had to sit idle for the televised event as Calgary did not have a first-round selection, but they were right in the middle of all the action as the first 31 players picked made their way to the podium.
The Broncos now begin the difficult task of rebuilding a franchise that has been a centre piece of the Canadian Junior Hockey League for decades. A new head coach and general manager is expected to be announced shortly and with that will come a recruitment process to fill in a roster that was decimated by the accident.
The Broncos home opener, fittingly against the Nipawin Hawks, the team they were playing in a semi-final round when the accident occurred, will be televised by TSN and CTV on Sept. 12.
There is plenty of work to be done leading up to that, but the Broncos team, and the community of Humboldt, has shown incredible resiliency as together they progress through a difficult healing process.