By Mike Stackhouse
Former Weyburn Red Wing Keegan Bruce is okay after his professional hockey team’s charter bus went off the road and flipped over near Peoria, the city where Bruce’s team (Columbus Cottonmouths) was scheduled to play this weekend.
“We left around midnight and were about ten minutes away from Peoria and we were getting on the ramp and the bus was just going a bit too fast and it was raining. The bus slipped off the road and ended up rolling over,” said Bruce.
“I was in the very back and I had a couple of windows I could look out of and see what direction we were going. I felt a big jump and the bus was tipping. I wasn’t sure what to think at that point. I just grabbed what was closest to me and hung on. It happened so fast. It’s tough to react. It was over quick and I just started making sure everyone around me was alright.”
Bruce said the entire team, coaching staff, and support staff went to the hospital for evaluation and to be treated for various injuries. Bruce says he’s fine aside from a couple of cuts and a goose egg on the back of his head, which he deems nothing serious.
“I’m, for sure, very lucky. The speed we were going, the angle we took down into the ditch. Thank God it was an open farm field. That saved us. I feel really lucky just to be alive.”
Bruce says he’s not sure when the team will be back on the ice again. He figures there are only about five players (including himself) who could suit up in the next few days. “Our goaltender (Brandon Jaeger) was hurt the worst. He dislocated his hip and was in rough shape. He’s, probably, out for the season. Most guys are on crutches with twisted ankles and broken toes,” said Bruce.
Any time a bus carrying hockey players is in an accident, it drudges up nasty memories for those in the Saskatchewan hockey fraternity. It was in December 1986 when four players lost their lives when the Swift Current Broncos’ bus went off the highway.
“I wasn’t really aware of that one,” said Bruce, who was born in 1991. “We have definitely talked about bus crashes a couple of times this year though because bus drivers seem to be reckless, at times, and then sure enough…it happened today.”
Bruce says, for the most part, he has been in touch with many people in the Weyburn area who may be concerned for his well being; but he wants those he hasn’t spoken with to know he’s alright and came out of the crash as one of the luckiest ones.
This is Bruce’s first year as a professional. He gives full marks to the Columbus Cottonmouths organization as being top notch. “We are treated first class for sure,” says Bruce, who is the team’s second leading scorer with 9-goals and 6-assists in 25-games as a rookie. “It’s been a fun experience so far.”
Bruce played four years at St. Scholastica (NCAA Div III) following his SJHL career and wants to encourage current junior players to consider that route. “The conference we were in was second to none. Every night is a big battle and I had an awesome time at school. I met a lot of great guys and wouldn’t change a thing.”
The Cottonmouths play in the Southern Professional Hockey League. Corey Tyrell (formerly of the Flin Flon Bombers) has played 19 games with the club, but he’s now in Mississippi, with the RiverKings. Ex-Melville Millionaire Levi Lind played one game with the Cottonmouths at the start of the year after a seven year career with the club.