Poignant pictures pierced through the hockey family starting early Friday evening when news broke about the horrific crash involving the Humboldt Broncos Junior A hockey club.
On their way to a playoff game in Nipawin, Sask., the black and white bus operated by Charlie’s Charters out of Tisdale, Sask., collided with a semi-trailer truck, claiming 15 lives – including the team’s head coach and radio play-by-play man.
Another 14 people were injured.
The carnage of metal littered the highway, helicopters hovered above and flashing red lights from emergency vehicles surrounding the scene of profound sadness.
But then a picture was posted on Twitter that represented what, I think, shows how tightly knit the hockey community is … and serves as a reminder of something we all can do to help soothe the pain.
The picture was posted just at 2:38 a.m. by @rjpatter. It’s an image of three Bronco players, lying in gurneys in a Saskatoon hospital, one with a neck brace on, another with tubes in his nose.
They were holding hands. All three of them, demonstrating the brotherhood of hockey and how the game they love goes far deeper than any pass on the ice they will ever make.
The picture was of Graysen Cameron of Olds, Tisdale native Nick Shumlanski and Derek Patter, who played bantam and midget hockey for the South Side Athletic Club in Edmonton.
Riding buses are the wheels that turns junior hockey. Buses are also a special sanctuary – a third dressing room — where players and coaches share thousands of kilometres every season.
As a reporter fortunate enough to cover the Alberta Junior Hockey League for three seasons, I’ve seen how bus bonding forms friendships forever.
Players studied, played cards, joked, pulled pranks, slept and sat looking out the bus windows over the snow-covered prairie wheat fields, with dreams of making the National Hockey League.
They encourage one another when someone is down. They celebrate the player who scored the game-winning goal in the final seconds of a big game.
They may not know it at the time, but they push one another to be faster and smarter players … and, better people.
After every game, before the player of the game selects the DVD for the ride home or the next city, before they change out of their suits and ties into sweat pants and before they have a bite of their burger or slice of pizza, they all do one of two things.
Phone, or text home their parents.
It’s indeed ironic that such a safe vessel — the team bus — turned into a lethal vehicle. For 15 sets of parents, including the family of former Edmonton Oiler Chris Joseph, who lost their 20-year-old son Jaxon, the grief, the sense of loss and the feeling of helplessness is indescribable.
The country, and in fact, the continent shares their grief.
We mourn together. We cry together. And we search for answers — some that will never be.
But we have each other. All we have to do is hold one another’s hand.
Just like in the picture.
PLEASE CLICK THE PICTURE FOR AN AMAZING STORY FROM THE CRASH