Over the last two decades, Mark Cheyne laid awake many a night wondering if his hockey teams would arrive home safely from a road trip.
So when the news came of last Friday’s bus crash in Saskatchewan involving the Humboldt Broncos, the co-owner of the West Kelowna Warriors felt both a sense of shock and helplessness.
“That’s the worst nightmare for anybody involved in this game,” said Cheyne, who grew up in rural Saskatchewan. “You just hope you don’t get the call like the one the people got in Humboldt.
“There have been a lot of what ifs and close calls over the years for our teams…this is just devastating,” added Cheyne. “You don’t know what to think, how to react, it’s just a helpless feeling. Your heart goes out to the families and everyone involved.”
Cheyne will be among those standing in solidarity with the victim’s families and the Broncos’ organization Thursday when the Warriors host a candlelight vigil beginning at 6 p.m. at Royal LePage Place. People are asked to wear the jerseys of their favourite team.
Like Cheyne and many others across the hockey world, the tragedy hit far too close to home for Warriors’ head coach and GM Rylan Ferster.
Ferster was not only born and raised in the prairie province, he played with the Broncos as a 16-year-old rookie during the 1985-86 season.
Ferster also played three years with the Nipawin Hawks, the team the Broncos were travelling to play in an SJHL playoff game when their bus collided with a truck, killing 15 of the 29 people on board.
“I’ve been on that road many times, I know exactly where it happened,” said Ferster, who was born in nearby Prince Albert, Sask. “It’s been tough. I can’t imagine what it’s like for people back home. I know how I feel two provinces away and it’s just devestating.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people back home and they’re reeling, some of them can’t even talk about it,” Ferster said Sunday. “It’s horrific on so many levels.”
Ferster still travels thousands of kilometres every season on a team bus as a head coach in the BCHL. Ferster said for anyone who has ever been associated with a junior hockey team, the shocking reality is difficult to comprehend.
“It’s almost like the bus is supposed to be a safe haven, you feel safe when you get on, kind of like an extension of the dressing room,” Ferster said. “It’s a place where bonds form between people and teammates, where memories are made…junior hockey should be the best times of their lives.
“To have this happen is beyond belief.”
Still, in the face of the tragedy, Ferster fully expects the people of Saskatchewan and the hockey community at large will pull together and provide support for those in their time of need.
“There are so many people connected to junior hockey, something like this really brings people together,” said Ferster. “To lose 15 people who were all so tight, for them to pass away at once is beyond words.
“I grew up in Saskatchewan and I know how wonderful and supportive the people are,” he added. “They’ll pick everyone up and get each other through this.”
Broncos honoured at Prospera Place
Kelowna residents will have an opportunity to stand in solidarity with Humboldt, Saskatchewan and the Broncos team Thursday afternoon at Prospera Place.
Springfield Funeral Home has arranged an event where the public can gather for a minute of silence and a group photograph.
“We want to be an agent for some comfort and healing for the people of our community and those of Humboldt in the wake of this tragic accident,” said Rod Attwell, general manager of Springfield Funeral Home.
“The photograph will be taken with hands linked and raised inspired by the photograph of the three hospitalized Bronco team members,” reads the release from the funeral home. “The photograph will be sent to the Bronco’s team and the city of Humboldt. Everyone is invited to attend.”
Those who attend are being asked to wear the Broncos colours of green and yellow or if a hockey jersey.
The event begins at 4:15 p.m. in the Prospera Place West Parking Lot. Parking is available at Prospera Place from 3:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.
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