By Dave Leaderhouse
“The worst nightmare has happened!”
Those words were uttered by a visibly shaken Bill Chow, president of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, at the very first media conference following Friday’s tragic accident that claimed 15 members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team and left 14 others in hospital fighting for their lives.
The nightmare has devastated the city of Humboldt and hockey community world-wide and as names of those who perished began to emerge, along with images of the crash scene itself, the horror increased in intensity.
Support for those affected by the incident was immediate, but the first real step in the healing process occurred on Sunday evening when thousands gathered at the Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt for a vigil initiated by the Humboldt and area ministerial association.
The inter-denomination service began with the singing of “O Canada”, a fitting tribute to a country that has been brought together in an unprecedented manner because of this tragedy.
Humboldt mayor Rob Muench followed and while wearing a Humboldt Bronco jersey he passed on his condolences to the many families who were suffering from the sudden loss of a loved one while also expressing his concern to those who were dealing with the trauma from the incident.
“This, tonight, is one of the steps we have to go through in the healing process,” said Muench. “We will get through this. Be strong.”
Humboldt Bronco president Kevin Garinger was next and delivered one of the most poignant moments when he first read off the names of the survivors of the crash before tearfully listing those who did not.
“Not one of us is alone in our grief,” stated Garinger. “Reach out to someone. We’re all Humboldt Broncos and forever will be Humboldt Broncos Strong.”
A number of ministers, pastors, priests and others from the various faiths then shared words of scripture and offered words of hope bringing many to tears as the grief overflowed from the large crowd.
During the service, a moment of silence was recognized when Game 6 of the semi-final series against the Nipawin Hawks would have started had the Broncos returned from Friday’s game in Nipawin with a victory.
The evening was ended by a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace” and the large crowd joining in with the “Lord’s Prayer.” It was when the gathering began to disperse that the emotions overflowed as hugs were shared and tears fell freely.
Among those in the crowd were Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe along with Hockey Night in Canada hosts Ron McLean and Don Cherry. Other dignitaries were present including several members of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos team that experienced a similar experience when they lost four teammates following a bus crash enroute to a Western Hockey League game in Regina.
A surprise guest was Nick Shumlanski, the first of the 14 injured to be released from the hospital.
The event was not a memorial for those who lost their lives on Friday, but rather it was an opportunity for the community to begin the healing process and come to terms with what happened.
Supporting one another through this difficult time was a common theme and the support has been unbelievable. Earlier in the day, the head coaches of both the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, Glen Gulutzan and Todd McLellan, flew into Saskatoon together to bring gifts to those in the hospital and offer words of encouragement and support. Others have done the same.
What was supposed to be a continuation of a fierce semi-final series on Friday – Nipawin had grabbed a 3-1 advantage following a thrilling triple overtime contest in Humboldt on Wednesday – has become something unimaginable.
“In all of this darkness, a light has shone through,” noted Garinger.
It is going to take some time for that light to get brighter and Sunday was the start of a process that is going to last months, if not years.