It happened in the blink of an eye.
One minute, the Humboldt Broncos were a band of strong young men with an air of invincibility about them, heading confidently into a playoff hockey game that was to be the culmination of so much work and sacrifice. In barely a split second, they felt an unimaginable impact. For some, that jolt extinguished the bright light they brought to life. It left others unrecognizable to their closest family members, bearing both physical and mental scars that will last for some time.
On a cold stretch of Saskatchewan highway, life changed forever for these young men, those who guided and loved them, and the community that shared in their ups and downs on the hockey rink and elsewhere. Though their sadness is most profound, the Broncos appear to have touched people across Canada and around the world who also closely feel the pain of this senseless tragedy.
As news spread over the weekend, the reality hit home that this group of young men could have been any of us or our loved ones. Most people across the country have either been riding buses to hockey games or other sporting events, they’ve sent their children out in those situations, or they know of someone who has. Our own Napanee Raiders and countless minor hockey, club sports, and high school teams head out on area roads regularly in the dead of winter. While we take for granted they’re always going to be there to play the next game, it is by grace that they have returned home safely night after night.
Coupled with the extreme sense of “this isn’t supposed to happen” that always comes with the loss of otherwise healthy, young people, it is that relatability that has brought out the best of people. It had them attending vigils next to strangers, seeking out green-and-gold clothing, sending money they’ve scrimped and saved miles away, and trusting that their hockey sticks dutifully left by the door will be safe. One might ponder why death and loss has that effect and that power to make people behave the way they always wished they would.
It’s going to be a long road for the people of Humboldt and their beloved Broncos organization as they take time to grieve, to heal, and to pick up the pieces of this tragedy. One could imagine the social media buzz and the enthusiasm of people without direct ties to the team will fade more quickly. Even as it does, let those emotions never be forgotten.
If we could have one wish — aside from being able to live in an altered reality where the Broncos still take the ice and grow old to make their impacts on the world — it would be that we all could capture a bit of their drive and youthful spirit and continue living lives with meaning. One only has to look to players Ryan Straschnitzki — who hopes to represent his country in sledge hockey and be a role model for others — and Logan Boulet — who was adamant about being an organ donor if such a difficult day should come — for inspiration.
The effort to honour that legacy could take on any number of forms. It could be being a better child or parent. Maybe it’s volunteering to be a coach or mentor. Perhaps, it’s campaigning for highway safety. It’s a good time for reflection and for action. After all, lives can be changed in the blink of an eye.