BERWICK - Wayne Hamilton’s mind was racing a mile a minute in the moments after he heard of the deadly bus crash involving Saskatchewan’s Jr. A Humboldt Broncos.
Sixteen people died and 13 others were injured after the team’s bus collided with a transport truck near Tisdale, Sask. while en route to a playoff game April 6.
“The first thing that I felt when I heard the news, was that I knew those players. I didn’t know them personally, but I’ve been on many busses going to a playoff game. I know what they were thinking. I know what they were doing. I know what they were talking about - and I got an immediate knot in my stomach,” said Hamilton, a board member for the Valley Wildcats organization.
“I’ve been involved with Jr. A hockey for almost 20 years.”
Hamilton wanted to do something – anything – to send a message of solidarity to those deeply impacted by the tragedy. He opted to organize a candlelight vigil, which was hosted at the Kings Mutual Century Centre in Berwick April 15 at 3 p.m.
“It really hit close to home,” he said.
“I’m not going to heal anybody but I certainly would like to see people go there so that they know they’re not hurting alone.”
More than 120 people seized the opportunity to reflect, pay their respects and offer a show of support for the Humboldt Broncos.
Berwick & District Volunteer Fire Department chaplain Layton MacDonald delivered an address to first responders.
“As people are running away from danger, we tend to run in,” he said.
He asked the audience to think about the roles of paramedics, firefighters and RCMP officers within their communities.
“I’ve seen my share of tragedy,” he said, noting that he’s been in the fire service for more than 30 years.
The horrific bus crash in Humboldt will have lasting effects on many of the first responders called to the scene for years to come, MacDonald said.
“After all of the funerals and all of the hospital visits are over with, there will be first responders who carry it for the rest of their lives. They need our prayers and our support.”
Valley Wildcats volunteer Justin Halbersma challenged the crowd to make a point to appreciate players, coaches, support staff, the game of hockey, families and communities more moving forward.
“Today we stand together. We stand for Humboldt, because Humboldt’s story is our story and it’s the story of every Jr. A franchise across this great nation,” he said.
“May the memories of the 16 who lost their lives be our inspiration to make a difference in our communities. May they not have died in vain. May they never be forgotten.”
Valley Wildcats general manager Nick Greenough had a lot to reflect on during the emotional ceremony. He’s recently spent some time recalling the countless hours he’s logged on a bus as both a former high-level hockey player and coach.
“On the bus is where a lot of stories are told, friendships are made. You’re there after a win when emotions are high. You’re together after a loss when emotions are at their lowest point, and they spend hundreds of hours each year up and down the road on the bus,” said Greenough in an interview prior to the vigil.
“I’ve talked to their coach, Darcy (Haugan), numerous times over the years and there’s a player on our team, Donavon Beatty, that knew a couple of players from being a Saskatchewan kid.”
The crash claimed the lives of ten players, Haugan, an assistant coach, the bus driver, a play-by-play broadcaster, a volunteer statistician and the team’s athletic therapist.
“I was overwhelmed when this happened because these guys were going to play a playoff game and expecting to come back home to Humboldt that night - and this happened,” said Greenough.
“You never want to hear something like this.”
The hockey world is a close-knit community, Greenough said.
“We just wanted to show our support and do what we can out here and let everyone out west know we’re thinking of them.”