The Alberta Native Hockey Provincials is raising money to support the families of the Humboldt Broncos (from left, back row) Rochelle Houle and Lauren Shaw; (front row) Florence Youngchief, Aaron Bull and Angus Chalifoux. (Photos by Shari Narine)
By Shari Narine
Every year that Arnold Kootenay has emceed the Alberta Native Hockey Provincials he tells players and their families to drive home safely. That wish will mean more today than it has ever meant before.
Kootenay, who has served as public announcer for the Edmonton tournament for years, as well as past vice-president with Alberta Native Hockey, is also friends of the Christopher Joseph family.
Joseph’s son Jaxon was one of 15 people who lost their lives on Friday evening in a collision on a rural highway between a transport truck and the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game in Nipiwan.
Fourteen others on the bus were injured. The driver of the truck was not physically harmed.
“Just knowing that there are thousands of kids who leave their house every day to play hockey, and every year when I do the emceeing at the opening ceremonies, part of my opening presentation is always to, when they do the prayers of the Elders, is always to go home safe, travel home safe and I meant that every time. Because you never know. This is a prime example of kids chasing a hockey dream and unfortunately losing the opportunity with a short life,” Kootenay said.
Kootenay, who lives in St. Albert, notes that three of the 10 players killed were from St. Albert, two of which his family personally knew. He said the Joseph family was initially told their son had survived. Six of the dead players and head coach Darcy Haugan are from Alberta. The bus was transporting 29. Also among those losing their lives is an assistant coach, statistician, local radio commentator and the driver. There were 24 players on board, ranging in age from 16 to 21.
Aaron Bull from Good Fish Lake played junior hockey years ago, and travelled by bus to games. But whether travelling by bus as the nearby Junior B teams do or parents taking turns carpooling minor hockey players, he says there is always a risk on the road.
“It hits home for everybody,” he said of Friday’s tragedy.
In response, the Alberta Native Hockey Provincials is raising funds by selling green and yellow ribbons—the Humboldt Broncos’ colours—for $5. All proceeds will be sent to Humboldt to support the families who have suffered loss. In less than 12 hours, the effort had raised $1,000.
“It’s something we feel real strongly that we can make a difference from the families here in Alberta,” said Bull.
“In the community, we’re all connected. Everybody is one great big family,” he said.
Bull and Kootenay say what happened in Saskatchewan is “heartbreaking.”
Alberta Native Hockey Provincials volunteer Aaron Bull accepts $5 for a ribbon in support of the Humboldt Broncos. (Photos Shari Narine)
On Saturday, the 25 ice surfaces across Edmonton and the Enoch Cree Nation hosting the Alberta Native Hockey Provincials honoured the Broncos with a moment of silence at 2 p.m., said Kootenay.
The city of Humboldt and the Broncos have been receiving an outpouring of support from across the country and the United States. Last night, a number of National Hockey League teams held moments of silence and some played with the “Broncos” name on their backs and others had the Broncos logo on their helmets. A GoFundMe page has raised more than $3 million for the families.
RCMP Saskatchewan Assistant Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said the investigation is still ongoing and it is expected to take some time before it is concluded.
A memorial/vigil will be held for the team tonight at the Humboldt hockey arena.
The ribbon worn by Arnold Kootenay is personal: His family knew two of the boys, who died. (Photo by Shari Narine)
Here Condolences from Priscilla Swampy-Dion, Alberta Native Hockey Council Tournament Organizing Committee.