BY STUART KEMP
Four games each night during the weekend took place, but much of the two nights was reserved for a horrific bus crash that ended up killing fifteen people and injuring fourteen others outside the rural town of Tisdale, Saskatchewan, located east of Saskatoon … more on that in a moment.
The first night of the WHL second round saw Eastern Division teams Swift Current Broncos and Moose Jaw Warriors battle in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The first night the Warriors led for the game before allowing Swift Current to get close before finishing the game with a 5-3 win.
The Central vs East Division was up next with Lethbridge Hurricanes facing the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Kings had a tough night out in the first game dropping a 5-1 decision to the Canes. Jordy Bellerive and Taylor Ross each scored a pair of goals for the Hurricanes.
The Victoria Royals goaltender, Griffin Outhouse, was shellacked for seven goals by seven different scorers and Patrick Dea earned the shutout in a 7-0 win for the Tri-City Americans.
The Everett Silvertips gave up the first three goals of the game before coming back with a pair in the second to make it close, but Skyler McKenzie scored with just over one second left in the period to restore the two goal cushion and added another midway through the third period to take game one by a 5-2 score.
The second night, the news had sunk in about the horrific tragedy that has taken place the night before and all games in the WHL had all the players on each team gather together side by side in alternating fashion either at center ice or at the blue line.
NHL teams Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets removed their nameplates and played the game with the name Broncos stitched in their place.
Many teams donated either portions of 50/50 sales or collected donations from patrons for the people of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, home of the Humboldt Broncos and along with a GoFundMe project, is closing on five million dollars in less than two days.
It was a tough night for the second set of games as teams seemingly were preoccupied with the situation in Saskatchewan.
The Swift Current Broncos came back from the loss the previous night to shutout the Moose Jaw Warriors 4-0 with four different scorers to now tie the series at one game apiece with the series shifting to Swift Current.
The Brandon Wheat Kings scored four goals in the first two periods before a comeback by the Hurricanes. The Canes started the comeback in the middle of the second by Jordy Bellerive who also scored midway through the third and a late powerplay goal by Lethbridge tied up the contest. Late into the first overtime the Hurricanes completed the comeback with a 5-4 overtime win and a two game lead in the series. The Kings will host the next two games in Brandon.
In Victoria after smarting from a shutout, the Royals gave up the first goal less than a minute into the contest to Tri-City’s Michael Rasmussen. Just under seven minutes into the second, the Royals tied it up, only to allow Rasmussen his second of the game ten minutes later while on the powerplay. Early in the third period, Tri-City extended the lead and the game saw the Americans cap off the scoring with the hat trick goal by Rasmussen with just over a minute left in the game, Rasmussen ended the game with three goals and one assist to lead the Ams to a 4-1 win and a two games to one lead in the series with it now shifting to Kennewick, WA.
The Portland Winterhawks seemed to be more focused on anything but the game at hand as they gave up two goals in the first, one of which came in the first minute of play, three more in the second and one in the third which gave Patrick Bajkov a hat trick and Carter Hart the shutout in a 6-0 thrashing of the Hawks. The series now tied at one will move to Portland.
All series will resume again on Tuesday, with the all series except the Portland/ Everett series playing game four on Wednesday. That series will play game four on Thursday.
The horrific bus crash that took place on Friday afternoon is being investigated by the RCMP with the driver of the tractor trailer escaping without injury, fourteen players initially dead at the scene and fourteen players on the bus as injured, three critically. One player who had just turned twenty-one had signed a donor registry card at the same time and his body was being used to assist up to eleven lives after he was pronounced brain dead in hospital, raising the total to fifteen. The driver of the tractor trailer was initially taken into custody
On Sunday, a vigil was held in Humboldt, Saskatchewan home of the Broncos which filled the arena to capacity.
Overflow crowds moved to the curling center with the vigil streaming online. Elsewhere, vigils were held in Saskatoon at City Hall and the Art Bauer Centre in Prince Albert Saskatchewan. The names of all deceased were read at the vigil, however the RCMP had not officially announced the victims. The Premier of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Prime Minister attended, but did not speak. Don Cherry, who hosts a segment called Coaches Corner on CBC TV during hockey games also attended.
Photos including aerial ones have circulated online and show a strewn about scene with bales of peat moss which the tractor trailer truck was carrying. The truck was westbound on Highway 335 which had a stop sign to yield to traffic on Highway 35 in which the bus was traveling northbound. There is a stand of trees on the angle to the left that has some impairment to those turning off the highway northbound. The investigation is also looking into weather and road conditions. The impact sent both vehicles a distance northbound up the highway and the bus appeared to be shredded. Among the dead were ten players ranging in age from sixteen to twenty-one, the bus driver, the head coach, assistant coach, statistician and radio broadcaster. The crash occurred at approximately 5 PM with less than thirty minutes prior to arrival in Nipawin, Saskatchewan where the Humboldt Broncos were to play game five against the Nipawin Hawks, down 3-1 in the series. Dame six was set to take place in Humboldt on Sunday, where instead a vigil was held. The vigil started at 7:30pm when puck drop would have taken place and instead a moment of silence was held.
At this point, the SJHL has suspended operations for all teams, though the race is on for decisions on what will happen as the finals and RBC Cup which is similar to the Memorial Cup in the Canadian Hockey League are scheduled to be taking place in the coming days. The Estevan Bruins were awaiting the winner of the Hawks/ Broncos series which was scheduled to begin this coming Friday and the winner to move onto the RBC Cup.
The GoFundMe account, which is closing in on five million dollars, was helped by large donations from several NHL teams and over sixteen thousand individual donors. The Portland Winterhawks Booster Club will be collecting donations at home games on Tuesday and Thursday with the funds going directly to Humboldt Broncos.
It was announced at the initial press conference that an accountant and attorney will assist with the distribution of funds once collected to figure out the best way to assist those in need in this tragic situation.
More will be announced in the coming days.