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

CT scanner officially open in Smithers

As of noon on July 12 the machine had scanned 45 patients, five of which were emergency CT scans.

Musical collaboration comes together at Midsummer Music Festival

The project was done to acknowledge a potential for harmony among otherwise disparate communities.

WATCH: Mip performs at Bulkley Valley Brewery July 12

Catch two songs from Mip’s nearly three-hour set at the brewery on July 12.

Northern B.C.’s Ridley coal terminal sold, Canada divests, First Nations to own portion

Ten per cent of shares transferred to the Lax Kw’alaams Band and the Metlakatla First Nation

VIDEO: Reports say Lashana Lynch is the new 007

Daniel Craig will reprise his role as Bond one last time

B.C. shipyard to get one-third of $1.5 billion frigate-repair contract

The federal government has promised to invest $7.5 billion to maintain the 12 frigates

Anglican Church to review governance structure after same-sex marriage change fails

Some say the current system to change doctrine gives too much voting power to a smaller class of bishops

B.C. adding fast-charge stations for electric highway trips

Okanagan, Vancouver Island, Kootenay stations ready for use

Worried about bats? Here’s what to do if you come across one in B.C.

Bat expert with the BC Community Bat Program urges caution around the small creatures

B.C. on right road with tougher ride-hailing driver rules, says expert

The provincial government is holding firm that ride-hailing drivers have a Class 4 licence

RCMP investigating alleged ‘sexual misconduct’ by cyclist on BCIT campus

BCIT said they were reviewing video evidence of the incident

New home cost dips in B.C.’s large urban centres

Victoria, Kelowna, Vancouver prices decline from last year

Graphic suicide scene edited out of ‘13 Reasons Why’ finale

Suicide prevention groups support the decision

Most Read