Minnesota’s hockey community reacted with shock, grief and sympathy Saturday to the news from Canada of a horrific crash that killed 15 people on a bus carrying a young hockey team.
Several members of the Humboldt Broncos, a team in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, died Friday evening when a semitrailer truck slammed into the team’s bus on a remote highway 150 miles northeast of Saskatoon.
Mason Etter, a 21-year-old defenseman for Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., who played in the Saskatchewan league for three years, said Friday’s tragedy will have an immeasurable impact on the province.
“It’s just terrible for the organization and families,” he said. “You forget about the hockey when it comes to stuff like this.”
The teams in the Saskatchewan league, made up of players between ages 16 and 20, are a source of pride for residents, he said. “It’s a big thing for those small towns. That’s their life.”
His team, the Flin Flon Bombers, would frequently take buses up and down the two-lane roadways for games. The trips were far from scenic, he remembered, but he and his teammates formed close bonds and memories during them. “I spent a lot of time on the bus, and you just never think of an outcome like that,” he said.
Etter said a former teammate, Nick Shumlanski, was one of the players injured in the crash. “He’s doing well as of today, so that’s good to hear,” he said.
Curt Giles, head coach of the Edina High School boys’ varsity hockey team and a former North Star, played for the Broncos in the 1970s.
“It’s a great little farming town of around 6,000, and that hockey team is everything to the people,” Giles told the Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse. “It’s small-town Canada at its best. I can only imagine the broken hearts in Humboldt this morning.”
Like Etter, Giles recalled the bus rides he and the Broncos took across the region. “The roads up there were like what you have in northwest Minnesota,” he said. “The roads might be better now … but those night rides across Saskatchewan in the middle of winter were something to remember.’’
Before their Saturday night game in San Jose, Calif., members of the Minnesota Wild shared their sympathies for the families affected by the crash.
“I’m sure for an awful lot of people, hockey people especially, it’s really hit a nerve,” said coach Bruce Boudreau. “It’s the saddest thing I’ve heard in a long time.”
Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk, who was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, about 200 miles from the crash site, said the news made him think of his own experiences traveling across the country for games.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around it,” he said. “I can’t even imagine what the players and what the families have to go through.”
Statewide, scores of teams and players took to social media to offer condolences and support.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Humboldt Broncos organization and the families impacted by today’s tragic news,” tweeted the official account of the Minnesota Wild.
The University of Minnesota men’s hockey team posted similar sentiments, saying their “thoughts and hearts are with the Humboldt Broncos, their loved ones and the entire Humboldt community.”
Minnesota Hockey, an affiliate of USA Hockey and a governing body for youth hockey in the state, shared a tweet of three Broncos players holding hands while in the hospital. “What a moment,” the organization’s response read. “A touch of hope in the midst of tragedy. Thoughts and prayers to the players, families and friends affected!”
Matt Hrynkiw, a volunteer assistant coach for the University of North Dakota hockey team, was born in Saskatchewan and once played for the Humboldt Broncos. “Thoughts and prayers go out to all around @HumboldtBroncos. #cantevenimagine,” he tweeted.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the Humboldt Broncos players and their families,” wrote Wild defenseman Ryan Suter. “Sadly, it is a reminder to cherish every day.”
Star Tribune staff writers Sarah McLellan and Patrick Reusse contributed to this report.