Returning Humboldt Broncos players Brayden Camrud (26) and Derek Patter (23) hug as they take part in the pregame ceremony before playing the Nipawin Hawks in the SJHL season home opener Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. The Humboldt Broncos were playing their first game since a bus crash claimed 16 lives in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Humboldt Broncos emerge from tragedy

Junior hockey squad returns to ice for first game since tragic bus crash

HUMBOLDT, Sask. — The Humboldt Broncos emerged from tragedy Wednesday night, launching a new hockey season with the help of many of the players who survived the team’s deadly bus crash in April.

Eight of the surviving players dropped the puck in the ceremonial faceoff of the club’s first regular-season game since 16 were killed five months ago.

Two others suited up and played.

The Broncos fell 2-1 to the Nipawin Hawks, last year’s Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League champions, but though it was a night marked by sadness, there was also celebration.

Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter were both in the game, the only two players who were in the crash and are back on the Broncos this season.

Kaleb Dahlgren, who is now playing university hockey in Ontario, said it was important to be there.

“I think it is a step in the healing process for sure,” he said. “Tonight definitely helps heal the wounds but it won’t for sure heal everything. There is still lots that need to be done.”

RELATED: ‘It’s a road trip that we never finished

RELATED: Bus crash survivor still has a long recovery ahead

Some of their injuries were still apparent.

Xavier Labelle, who was initially mistaken as being among the dead, has a large scar running across his forehead down to his eye.

Goaltender Jacob Wassermann used a wheelchair to get onto the ice.

Patter and Camrud shared a brief hug after they skated onto the ice as the crowd stood and cheered. Camrud overcame a severe concussion, loss of feeling in one of his arms and neck issues.

Many family members were also there.

Dahlgren’s dad, Mark, was struck by the tribute photos outside the arena as he and his son pulled up.

“I just saw all the pictures of the people that passed on the bus and I just looked over at him and said: ‘Sure glad your picture’s not up there,’” he said. “We’re the lucky ones and we don’t take it for granted. Every day we are appreciative to have him with us.”

His son said it felt different pulling up to the rink and not playing.

“It felt like I moved on, onto the next chapter. I’m in university now and I’m on that hockey team now,” he said. “It’s a new chapter for me and it’s a new chapter for this team.”

But the game was difficult for at least one of the players who suffered lifelong injuries in the crash.

Former Broncos player Ryan Straschnitzki, who was paralyzed from the chest down in the crash, opted not to watch the season opener in person. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to watch the game on TV even though it’s been on his mind.

“It’s not my team anymore,” Straschnitzki 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.”

Tom Straschnitzki said he understands why his son might be hesitant.

“He should be playing in this home opener today as with the other players,” he said. “It’s a difficult day.”

Humboldt Mayor Robert Muench said he thinks the game marks a step forward for his small city.

“I think people were … really looking forward to the season getting going and seeing the new team and seeing the results of a lot of work from a lot of people getting the team back on the ice,” he said.

“In my mind, it’s kind of a new page, a new chapter in the book I guess moving forward as a community and as a team.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was to watch the game in Saskatoon, said all of Canada was cheering for the Broncos.

“To the people of Humboldt, know that we are with you. Know that we will continue to support you as you heal,” Trudeau said earlier in the day.

“You have us and 37 million fans cheering you on.”

The opponents Wednesday were the Hawks — the same team the Broncos were travelling to face the night of the crash.

The Broncos will board a bus again Friday and head to Nipawin for a rematch.

Jamie Brockman, president of the Broncos, said the team is grateful for all the support it has received from across Canada and the world.

“We’re going to find out what our new normal is after today,” he said. “Hockey is back in Humboldt. We are strong and we are going to survive and we are going to move forward.”

The Broncos lost their coach, Darcy Haugan, in the crash. Former NHLer Nathan Oystrick takes his place.

“It’s a great day to be a Bronco, gentlemen” — something Haugan often told his players — is now inscribed outside the team’s dressing room.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Returning Humboldt Broncos player Brayden Camrud (26) hugs former teammate Jacob Wassermann during a pregame ceremony before playing the Nipawin Hawks in the SJHL season home opener Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. The Humboldt Broncos were playing their first game since a bus crash claimed 16 lives in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Just Posted

Tenore trio want to celebrate a Christmas with You

The tenor group performs at Penticton’s Church of the Nazarene tonight at 6 p.m.

Help the RCMP cram the kennel today at Cherry Lane

RCMP officers and volunteers will be filling kennels with donated food and pet supplies.

Summerland college operated from 1906 to 1915

Ritchie Hall and Morton Hall were constructed for Okanagan Baptist College

South Okanagan volunteer dental clinic donates rotten teeth to good cause

H.E.C.K. recently gifted 47 rotten teeth to a search and rescue group in the area

Construction to start on Penticton’s Kettle Valley Rail Bridge

Depending on the weather, a crew will be replacing the bridge’s deck starting Dec. 10

VIDEO: SNL skewers Trudeau’s mockery of Trump in high school cafeteria sketch

The three world leaders won’t let Trump sit at the cool kids’ table

B.C. universities post $340 million worth of surpluses thanks to international student tuition

Students call for spending as international enrolment produces huge surpluses at many universities

INFOGRAPHIC: How much money did your local university or college make last year?

B.C. university and colleges posted a combined $340 million surplus in 2018/19

B.C. creates $8.5M organization to improve safety for health care workers

Group will bring together unions, province, health care organizations

Kovrig clings to humour as ‘two Michaels’ near one year in Chinese prison

Their detention is widely viewed as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou

Slippery sections reported on Okanagan and Shuswap highways

Some sections of the Trans-Canada highway have black ice on them.

B.C. VIEWS: An engine that hums right along

First Nations are leading a new surge of investment in B.C.

Brain injury from domestic abuse a ‘public health crisis,’ says B.C. researcher

Nearly 80% of the domestic violence victims who reported to police last year were women

Campbell River mom’s iPhone containing priceless photos stolen from Victoria hospital parkade

The phone contained photos, heartbeat recordings of her late son

Most Read