It is a sight that normally would not make you think twice, but if you notice hockey sticks propped up outside of doors this week it should make you pause for a moment. This past Friday a horrific crash took place in Tisdale Saskatchewan, Canada where the team bus carrying the junior league Humboldt Broncos to a playoff game collided with a semi-hauler.
The head coach and fourteen others, some of those players in their teens, perished in the crash. A total of ten players and two coaches were lost, as well as the team statistician, the team radio announcer and the bus driver. The tragedy has rendered the town of Humboldt, with a population hovering around just 6,000 citizens.
Over the weekend it has reverberated throughout the sport. Most NHL teams have honored the losses during pregame ceremonies, and the broader hockey community has been drawn together. As a sign of the way the sport bonds, a small gesture originally made in Humboldt is spreading across the entire continent.
A junior league TV broadcaster — play-play-play announcer Brian Munz — posted on Twitter a picture showing what a friend of his, who lives in Humboldt, was doing as a gesture to those lost.
Got this text from a friend who I went to high school with in Humboldt.
— Brian Munz (@BrianMunzTSN) April 9, 2018
This has swelled into a tribute to the fallen that has been seen all over Canada, and is now moving across the US as well. Countless people on social media — using hashtags #PutYourStickOut and #SticksOutForHumboldt — have posted pictures of their twigs resting outside their doors. A growing number of NHL players are also partaking in the solemnity.
Part of the journey as a hockey player is the ride to the rink and the ride home, those moments are always a time of anctipation and reflection. Some of the best memories I have is riding the bus in Junior with my teammates. #HumboldtStrong #WeAreAllBroncos pic.twitter.com/naeLhVJgNn
— John Tavares (@91Tavares) April 10, 2018
— David Backes (@dbackes42) April 10, 2018
As most know hockey is interwoven into the Canadian culture. Nothing may be more emblematic of this than the nature of Canadian junior hockey. Players in their high school years who endeavor on a pro career may choose to join a junior team in the hopes of developing their skills to earn a bid on a professional team.
This often involves moving away from their hometown and taking up residence with families in the town where the team plays. They end up going to school, and becoming a member of their adopted community. In Humboldt this is an even more intimate encounter, where the tiny town also directly supports the team by working at the arena or volunteering for the organization.
This has granted the players a far more professional playing environment than a small-town junior squad may encounter. By example, instead of a standard gymnasium-style rink common in the numerous junior leagues across Canada, the Broncos skate in an arena with seating exceeding 1,800.
It has also made the Broncos a far more beloved element of the Humboldt community. When residents call it “my team” it is more than a rooting fanaticism — the citizens feel a sense of ownership. When the shock of the accident hit the community it was not concerning the death of players; it involves the loss of family members.
A number of fundraisers are underway to help support the families of victims of the crash. Donations are being collected now. A GoFundMe page has been established where you can donate to the cause.
Skate until dark, boys…