Sports Curmudgeon: Baseball, you’ve got a problem! . . . SJHL prexy: Losses are in excess of $1m . . . Turkey time: 2021 WJC opens Dec. 25

The World Series is upon us — the Los Angeles Dodgers drubbed the Tampa Bay Rays, 8-3, on Tuesday night in Game 1 — and Jack Finarelli, aka The Sports Curmudgeon, has a few words about baseball.

WorldSeriesThe curmudgeonly one has watched a lot of baseball over the last while, as have I. And he has concerns — I happen to agree with him, for whatever that’s worth — about what we have been seeing.

“Think about it,” he writes in his daily post. “In an inning where we have batters ‘working the count’ and there is a walk plus three strikeouts, there might be 25-30 pitches where the ball is never in play. That would be fine if it happened once a week; it happens far more frequently than that. Even in an inning where you mix in a home run, the ‘excitement factor’ tends to focus on the style of the bat flip and/or the pace of the ‘home run trot’ after the ball lands in the seats.

“One thing that detracts from ‘action’ in baseball games is The Shift. It does precisely what it is designed to do; it keeps pull hitters off the bases to a greater extent than in the days before The Shift. The fact that players and managers are so blockheaded as to allow The Shift to be as efficient as it is makes me wonder why baseball analytics only seems to apply to the defensive aspects of the game. Forget the lost art of bunting; just look at the defenders deployed in The Shift and apply the wisdom of Wee Willie Keeler from more than a century ago and . . . ‘Hit ’em where they ain’t.’ ”

His full piece is right here.


Pirate


The SJHL will open exhibition play on Thursday night with its teams limited by SJHLhealth officials to an arena capacity of 150 fans. However, Bill Chow, the SJHL president, is hoping that is short-lived. . . . If it doesn’t change, Chow told Claire Hanna of CTV Regina, “I’ll make no bones about it but that will be a catastrophe.” . . . Chow said that the SJHL and its teams have lost “probably in excess of $1 million collectively” with last season being halted in the playoffs and the pandemic-related issues that have followed. . . . Hanna’s story is right here.



2020

COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .

Boston University shut down all athletic activities on Tuesday. From a statement by the Department of Athletics: “In consideration of the current situation showing a slight uptick in COVID cases on campus, we have temporarily paused all in-person team activities, including practices and training sessions. We will re-examine our return to activity early next week following further consultation with campus officials.” . . . College Hockey News has more right here. . . .

The ECHL’s Norfolk Admirals announced Tuesday that they are opting out of the 2020-21 season. The ECHL is planning to open its regular season on Dec. 11. . . . From an Admirals news release: “The safety of the Admirals players, staff and the community, combined with the state’s COVID-19 restrictions on limiting Norfolk Scope to a 1,000-person capacity limit, has led to the decision.” . . . The Admirals say they will return for the 2021-22 season. . . .

Officials in the California government gave pro teams the OK to have limited attendance at upcoming days. However, Santa Clara County health officials stepped in and told the San Francisco 49ers that they still aren’t allowed to sell tickets to home games. . . . In a statement, county officials said that sporting events with fans in attendance “will not be allowed any time soon in Santa Clara county.” . . .

The New Orleans Saints will have 3,000 season-ticket holders at their game on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. That total will increase to 6,000 for Nov. 15 and Nov. 22 home games. . . .

An outbreak of 34 positives in Vermont “can be traced to games played at a hockey rink earlier this month,” according to a report by CNN’s Nakia McNabb and Brian Ries. . . . A news release from the Vermont Department of Health states that the cases have been traced to a broomball league, as well as youth and adult hockey leagues. . . . There’s more right here. . . .

New Hampshire shut down all hockey activities in the state on Thursday, a move that is expected to last until at least Oct. 30. The move impacted at least 26 hockey leagues. . . . Beth Germano of CBS Boston reported that “more than 150 cases have now been linked to hockey in several outbreaks that state officials say have spread into communities.” . . . Germano added: “It’s unclear why the sudden spike in cases, but some are questioning if it’s out-of-state travel by some teams to tournaments and bringing the virus back.” . . . According to Gov. Chris Sununu, six outbreaks and 158 cases have been tied directly to hockey in the state over the past two months.

The State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) cancelled its winter sports season on Monday. That impacts men’s and women’s basketball, men’s ice hockey, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and men’s and women’s track and field. . . . SUNYAC features 10 full members and one affiliate in NCAA Division III sports.


If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:

Living Kidney Donor Program

St. Paul’s Hospital

6A Providence Building

1081 Burrard Street

Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6

Tel: 604-806-9027

Toll free: 1-877-922-9822

Fax: 604-806-9873

Email: donornurse@providencehealth.bc.ca

——

Vancouver General Hospital Living Donor Program – Kidney 

Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre

Level 5, 2775 Laurel Street

Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9

604-875-5182 or 1-855-875-5182

kidneydonornurse@vch.ca

——

Or, for more information, visit right here.


JUST NOTES: The Morden Blackhawks, a senior hockey team that plays in the South Eastern Manitoba Hockey League, said in August that it would be changing its nickname. That new nickname will be Bombers. That nickname has some history in the area, as the Morden Bombers played two seasons (1983-85) in the Central Amateur Senior Hockey League. . . . If you missed it on Monday, the IIHF released the scheduled for the 2021 World Junior Championship, which will be played in a bubble without spectators in Edmonton. The tournament will open on Dec. 25 with Switzerland meeting Slovakia at 11 a.m. PT (2 p.m. ET). It’s Germany and Finland at 3 p.m. PT (6 p.m. ET), and the day’s big one, Russia vs. U.S., at 6:30 p.m. PT (9:30 p.m. ET). I’m sure you will be able to schedule the carving of the turkey for the appropriate time. Canada opens play on Dec. 26 against Germany, 3 p.m. PT (6 p.m. ET). TSN’s complete telecast schedule, including 10 exhibition games, is right here.


Toy

Scattershooting on a Saturday night while wondering when to get out the snow shovel . . .

Scattershooting

The SJHL revealed Friday night that it has been given the OK for its teams to SJHLplay games “effective immediately.” Teams will be permitted to have a maximum of 150 fans at games, all of whom must wear masks. The league released a 24-game exhibition schedule Saturday night, with the first game scheduled for Thursday when the La Ronge Ice Wolves are to visit the Flin Flon Bombers. The two teams will meet four times in 10 days. Exhibition games will be played through Nov. 1.

With the Bombers being included, it tells us that the SJHL has received an exemption from government and health officials for the Bombers to travel in from Manitoba and for Saskatchewan teams to go into Manitoba. This isn’t a surprise, what with Flin Flon located pretty much atop the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border.

But remember that the Saskatchewan government has told curlers they aren’t to travel outside the province for games, nor are curlers from other provinces to travel into Saskatchewan for competition.

The WHL, which is planning on opening its regular season on Jan. 8, wants to have its five Saskatchewan teams play in a division with the two Manitoba teams — the Brandon Wheat Kings and Winnipeg Ice. But the WHL needs clearance for interprovincial play in order for that to happen.

Benny Walchuk of GX94 in Yorkton talked with Bill Chow, the SJHL president, and that interview is right here.


The BCHL has almost all of its teams playing exhibition games at the moment Wenatcheeas they prepare to open the regular season on Dec. 1. The exception is the Wenatchee, Wash., Wild, which isn’t involved because of U.S.-Canada border restrictions. . . . Instead, the Wild has scheduled a series of six scrimmages in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho about a three-hour drive from Wenatchee. . . . According to the Wild, the scrimmages will include “10-16 Western Hockey League players joining the Wild camp on a limited basis to participate in the scrimmages.” . . . Those scrimmages are scheduled for Oct. 22, 12:15 p.m.; Oct. 23, 7:15 p.m.; Nov. 6 and 7, and Nov. 13 and 14. Times for the latter four are TBA.



Nick Saban, the head coach of the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide, tested positive earlier in the week. But Saban, 68, turned in three negatives before Saturday so was on the sideline on Saturday night in a 41-24 road victory against No. 3 Georgia. Yes, that was Saban with his mask down around his chin getting in the face of an on-field official.

On Friday, Kurt Streeter of The New York Times wrote, in part:

This is, of course, an unpredictable disease. Saban is 68 years old, a particularly vulnerable age for this virus. But that does not seem to matter to major college football, which keeps twisting itself into knots, straining to rationalize playing games amid a pandemic that has led to at least 217,000 deaths in the United States — with no end in sight.

Even with infection hitting its most famous coach, the mind-set of the college game’s most vigorous enablers has not altered. They are bent on moving forward.

“He knows the risks,” they say. “Let’s keep going.”

“Move on.”

Streeter’s column is right here.


Here’s Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post in a column that explains who/what is in charge of the sports world these days:

What a tonic it would be to attend a live sporting event that features a prominent franchise.

“The problem, though, is that nobody calls the shots.

“Airborne particles that we cannot see will dictate a future we still cannot envision.

“Who knows what next week will bring, let alone next month or next year?

Take a look at the daily COVID figures, from coast to coast, and sigh.

“A long winter looms.”

The complete column is right here.


Snow

. . . or it could be you any morning this month!


COVID-19 CHRONICLES . . .

Here’s Brad Dickson, a humorist who used to be a columnist with the Omaha World-Herald: “The mayor and county health director held a press conference where they said go ahead with your Halloween parties and trick or treat ‘just be smart about it.’ At what point do people stop getting the benefit of the doubt about being smart on Covid?”

——

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) has scheduled its regular season to open on Dec. 1 with all eight of its teams in a bubble in Omaha, Neb. The 26-game season will be split into two parts, with each team playing 10 games in the first three weeks of December in Omaha. . . . In the New Year, each team will play 16 games — eight home and eight away. . . . The NCHC comprises Colorado Springs, Denver, Miami, Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota, Omaha, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan. . . . From a news release: “Overall medical support and COVID-19 testing for all participating student-athletes, staff and officials in the Pod will be conducted through the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), located in Omaha. Medical protocols and testing strategies for the entire season are currently being developed with top medical professionals from UNMC and the Global Center for Health Security.” . . . That news release is right here. . . .

The 11-team Atlantic Hockey Association is to open its regular season on Nov. 1. Each team will play 24 games and will have the ability to add four games. . . . From the Colonial Sports Network: “In an attempt to limit exposure of travel during the season, the AHA has divided 10 teams into eastern and western pods, with five teams in each geographical pod and Air Force standing alone on the outside looking in. The eastern pod consists of AIC, Army, Holy Cross, Bentley and Sacred Heart. Robert Morris finds itself in the western pod, joined by Canisius, Mercyhurst, RIT and Niagara.” That leaves Air Force to bounce back and forth between pods. . . .

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times checks in: “Attention, Dan Mullen (the Florida football coach who wanted to ‘see 90,000 (fans) in The Swamp’ for the LSU game — only to have to postpone it because so many of his players tested positive for COVID-19): Your Karma of the Year Award awaits you down at the front desk. A gentle reminder: Just be sure when you come to pick it up you’re wearing a mask.” . . . More from Ms. Karma: Mullen announced on Saturday that he also has tested positive. . . .

Oulun Kärpät, a team in the Finnish Liiga, has been quarantined until Oct. 24 after one of its players tested positive. The test came back on Friday night. At least three games will have to be rescheduled. . . .

At least one ringette and two minor hockey organizations in Ottawa have suspended play until current restrictions are lifted. The Nepean Minor Hockey Association, West End Hockey League and the City of Ottawa Ringette Association have shut down. . . . At the time they suspended operations, 10 skaters, including coaches, were allowed on the ice at any one time, with only practices without spectators permitted. All dressing rooms are closed so players had to arrive with their gear on. . . . Hockey Eastern Ontario, which oversees the region’s amateur hockey, has had an undisclosed number of positive tests show up in players and volunteers. In a statement, Ottawa Public Health said, according to CBC, that recent contract tracing investigations have “identified confirmed transmissions and outbreaks between staff and players.” . . . The CBC piece is right here. . . .

Things have reached the point in Winnipeg where officials are talking about shutting down arenas if hockey fans and players don’t do a better job of following public health orders. “The warning comes as the city battles the worst surge of COVID-19 cases in the province since the beginning of the pandemic,” writes Sara Petz of CBC, “prompting Mayor Brian Bowman to urge people to think of others, and wear a face mask.” . . . At one point in a Friday news conference, Mayor Bowman said: “Wear a friggin’ mask.” . . . That story is right here.



If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:

Living Kidney Donor Program

St. Paul’s Hospital

6A Providence Building

1081 Burrard Street

Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6

Tel: 604-806-9027

Toll free: 1-877-922-9822

Fax: 604-806-9873

Email: donornurse@providencehealth.bc.ca

——

Vancouver General Hospital Living Donor Program – Kidney 

Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre

Level 5, 2775 Laurel Street

Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9

604-875-5182 or 1-855-875-5182

kidneydonornurse@vch.ca

——

Or, for more information, visit right here.


JUST NOTES: In the past few days, the telephone scammers have been on the line from California, Idaho, Maine, Montana and New Jersey? Or might it be Agent Orange trying to get my vote? . . . He’s got endorsements from the Taliban and Kirstie Alley so how can anyone be undecided? . . . Wondering how many games your favourite WHL team might play in the 2021 season? Andy Beesley, the Prince George Cougars’ vice-president of business, told Hartley Miller of mypgnow.com and the GOAT 94.3: “As a baseline, I would expect to have 30-plus games, probably 34 games is a very minimum amount, maybe up to 50, but those details are yet to be determined.” . . . Bob Tory, the GM of the Tri-City Americans, told Myck Miller of KEPR-TV that “all our players have had their medicals done . . . we’ve been fortunate. We haven’t had one player test positive.” Tory said that while the Americans would love to have a full house for their opener in January, he isn’t counting on it. “No . . . we’re hoping that that’s the case,” he said. “But we have to prepare for the fact that we might have to start the season with no fans and then hopefully . . . if that’s successful they allow 25 per cent then 50 and then maybe full attendance.”


YardSale

Lambert leaves Chiefs for Music City. . . . WHL teams sign more prospects. . . . Growlers win ECHL in first season


MacBeth

D Justin Hamonic (Tri-City, 2012-15) has signed a one-year contract with the Coventry Blaze (England, UK Elite). This season, with Angers (France, Ligue Magnus), he had one goal and nine assists in 42 games.


ThisThat
On May 21, the Spokane Chiefs signed head coach Dan Lambert to an extension, believed SpokaneChiefsto be two years in length.

On June 4, the Chiefs began their search for a new head coach.

Such are the vagaries of major junior hockey.

Lambert, the Chiefs’ head coach for the past two seasons, has joined the NHL’s Nashville Predators as an assistant coach.

It turns out that the Predators came calling one day after the Chiefs and Lambert agreed on that extension.

“I was not looking,” Lambert told Dan Thompson for a story he wrote for the Spokane Spokesman-Review. “This was not my intention at all.”

The Chiefs are one of three WHL teams without a head coach, joining the Kamloops Blazers and Prince George Cougars. The Blazers are looking for a replacement for Serge Lajoie, who departed after one season, while the Cougars need a head coach after firing Richard Matvichuk in February.

In Brandon, David Anning, the head coach of the Wheat Kings for three seasons, is without a contract after his expired on May 31. He also spent four seasons as an assistant coach with Brandon.

In Spokane, it could be that assistant coach Scott Burt is atop the list of potential replacements. Burt has been on the Chiefs’ staff for six seasons now.

Lambert, 49, is a native of St. Boniface, Man. He played four seasons (1986-90) with the Swift Current Broncos, helping them to the 1989 Memorial Cup championship; he was named the tournament’s MVP. He went on to a pro career that ended after five seasons (2004-09) with the Hannover Scorpions of Germany’s DEL.

He got into coaching with the Kelowna Rockets, working as an assistant coach for five seasons (2009-14) and head coach for 2014-15. The Rockets won the Ed Chynoweth Cup in 2015 and reached the Memorial Cup final, where they lost to the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.

He spent 2015-16 as an assistant coach with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and was the head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, the next season.

He signed with the Chiefs after being dismissed by the Sabres.

Spokane was 81-46-13 with Lambert as its head coach. This season, the Chiefs finished 40-21-7, then reached the Western Conference final, where they lost to the Vancouver Giants.

This season, the Chiefs had the WHL’s best power play in the regular season (29.1 per cent) and again in the playoffs (36.1). Yes, he is likely to be responsible for Nashville’s PP.

Thompson’s complete story is right here.


There has never been a subscription fee for this blog, but if you enjoy stopping by here, why not consider donating to the cause? Thank you very much.


The Red Deer Rebels have signed three of their picks from the WHL’s 2019 bantam draft Red Deer— D Hunter Mayo, D Jace Weir and F Carter Anderson. . . . Mayo, from Martensville, Sask., was selected in the second round. He had 15 goals and 27 assists in 28 games with a bantam AA team in Martensville this season. . . . Weir, from Coldstream, B.C., also was taken in the second round. This season, he had eight goals and 24 assists in 18 games with the North Zone bantams in Coldstream. . . . Anderson, from Thompson, Man., was a third-round pick. This season, with the bantam prep team at the Winnipeg-based Rink Hockey Academy, he had 17 goals and 11 assists in 29 games.

——

The Swift Current Broncos have signed G Reid Dyck to a WHL contract. From Winkler, Man., Dyck was a third-round pick in the 2019 bantam draft. He was the second goaltender taken in the draft. . . . This season, he was 3.44 and .912 in 23 games with the bantam AAA Pembina Valley Hawks.

——

The Saskatoon Blades have signed F Jayden Wiens to a WHL contract. From Carrot River, Sask., he was an eighth-round selection in the 2018 bantam draft. . . . This season, with the midget AAA Tisdale Trojans, he had seven goals and 27 assists in 44 regular-season games. He added four goals and five assists in seven playoff games, then had six goals and two assists in seven Telus Cup games.


Serge Lajoie, who worked this season as the head coach of the Kamloops Blazers, has been added to the U of Alberta’s Sports Wall of Fame. . . . Lajoie won four national hockey titles with the Golden Bears — one as a player, two as an assistant coach and one as a head coach. He also was once named the U of A’s top male athlete and Canadian university’s male hockey player of the year. . . . Matt Gutach has more right here.


Bill Chow, the president of the SJHL, has had his contract extended through May 31, 2021. Chow has been running the SJHL for eight seasons since taking over on May 31, 2011. . . . The SJHL news release is right here.


Jake Grimes, who had been an associate coach with the OHL-champion Guelph Storm, is qmjhlthe new head coach of the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. . . . Grimes and George Burnett, the Storm’s general manager and head coach, had been together for 13 years in Belleville and Guelph. . . . Grimes, who is from Dartmouth, N.S., had been the Storm’s associate coach for two seasons. . . . The Screaming Eagles fired Marc-Andre Dumont, their GM and head coach, on April 16. . . . Last month, they named Jacques Carrier as general manager, hockey operations, and John Hanna as assistant GM, hockey operations.


The Newfoundland Growlers, in their first ECHL season, won the Kelly Cup on Tuesday night, beating the Toledo Walleye, 4-3, in St. John’s. . . . The Growlers won the best-of-seven final, 4-2. . . . Two ex-WHLers combined for the goal that gave the Growlers a 4-1 lead at 13:32 of the second period. F Giorgio Estephan scored the goal, with Hudson Elynuik getting the lone assist. Estephan, who won a WHL title last season with the Swift Current Broncos, finished with two goals and an assist, while Elynuik, who completed his junior eligibility with the Spokane Chiefs last season, had two assists. . . . Also in the Growlers’ lineup last night were F Matt Bradley, who finished his WHL career last season with the Regina Pats, and Latvian D Kristians Rubins, who spent the previous two seasons with the Medicine Hat Tigers. . . . The last ECHL team to win the championship in its first season of existence? The Greensboro Monarchs, in 1990.


Tweetoftheday

Scattershooting: The SJHL “will play hockey” . . . Big day for Beaudry . . . Willie helps out

Scattershooting

The SJHL’s board of governors voted unanimously on Wednesday afternoon to have the league’s playoffs played to a conclusion. The best-of-seven final will open Saturday with SJHLthe Estevan Bruins visiting the Hawks in Nipawin.

The league has been in a holding pattern since Friday when the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos to Nipawin for a game that night was involved in a crash in which 16 people died. The Hawks led that series, 3-1, at the time.

“We had a gruelling decision to make with respects on how we can pay tribute and honour the Humboldt Broncos,” SJHL president Bill Chow said in a statement. “On behalf of the board of governors, this intensive decision has been made and that decision is to carry through and finish off the 2017-18 season.

“The league will play hockey.”

The winner of the final will win the Canalta Cup and go on to play the Manitoba Junior Hockey League champion for the ANAVET Cup.

If you’re wonder, the Broncos’ organization is onside with the decision to play the final series.

“In my opinion, I think that hockey is important in our world, and it’s part of the healing process,” Broncos president Kevin Garinger told The Canadian Press. “I think it’s important to recognize that it is part of the healing process for everyone involved in this tragedy.”

Garinger also repeated that the Broncos expect to be one of the SJHL’s 12 teams when the 2018-19 season arrives.

“We know that hockey is critical for our Humboldt Broncos family,” he said. “We know that moving forward it will take time but we fully expect that the Humboldt Broncos organization will be part of the 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League schedule. We will look toward that when the time is right to consider it.”

——

SJHL final (best-of-seven):

Saturday: at Nipawin

Sunday: at Nipawin

Tuesday: at Estevan

Wednesday: at Estevan

If necessary:

Friday, April 20: at Nipawin

Sunday, April 22: at Estevan

Tuesday, April 24: at Nipawin


The Nipawin Hawks began preparations for the SJHL final at practice Wednesday afternoon, and they had a new assistant coach on the ice with them. Humboldt assistant coach Chris Beaudry, who wasn’t on the Broncos’ bus on Friday because he was driving himself to the game, had on his coaching gear and was helping the Hawks.

Later in the day, Beaudry hit send on the following tweet:


If you follow the WHL, you know that the Saskatoon Blades didn’t qualify for the playoffs and, subsequently, head coach Dean Brockman was fired.

If you are one of those people who believes that things happen for a reason, well, before joining the Blades as an assistant coach, Brockman spent 17 seasons with the Broncos, the last 10 as general manager and head coach.

With that in mind, might Brockman end up back there, charged with putting the franchise back together?

Only time will tell. In the meantime, Brockman’s thoughts on the tragedy and what has transpired are right here in a piece from CBC.


On Tuesday afternoon, I posted a piece here — The boys grab some sticks and win a game — and the response has blown me away. On Wednesday morning, Cam Hutchinson, the editor of the Saskatoon Express, asked for permission to print the story in the next issue of that newspaper. Of course, I told him to go ahead. So, if you’re in the Saskatoon area, you can watch for it in print on Monday and online on Tuesday. . . . On Wednesday afternoon, following the death of Broncos athletic therapist Dayna Brons, I updated the story to include her.



There are stories everywhere involving victims of Friday’s bus accident. Here’s one that I absolutely love. . . . Graysen Cameron is one of the Humboldt players who was hospitalized after the accident. His brother, Bretton, is the captain of the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits. He played three seasons (2007-10) with the Medicine Hat Tigers, while Willie Desjardins was the general manager and head coach. . . . Bretton badly wanted to get to Saskatoon in order to be with Graysen, but was having visa problems. It just happened that Desjardins called on Saturday to ask about Graysen. During the conversation, Bretton mentioned the visa issues. Well, it seems that Desjardins knows a lawyer through his NHL connections and, well, Bretton was on a plane to Saskatoon on Sunday. . . . These are the kinds of relationships that are forged while buses carry teams across this land.


Hockey’s heartland left to cry once again

Humboldt is in the heartland of hockey. It really is. Located east of Saskatoon, south of Prince Albert, not far from Yorkton and Tisdale and Melfort and Nipawin, it is one of those hockey-town communities where teenagers grow into men as they chase their dreams.

The junior A Humboldt Broncos were doing just that on Friday when they boarded the team bus and headed for Nipawin and Game 5 of their Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League semifinal series with the Hawks. Nipawin held a 3-1 edge in the best-of-seven affair, but you can bet your boots that the Broncos didn’t think it was close to being over.

That game, of course, wasn’t played, nor will it be. As the bus rolled closer to Nipawin, it was involved in a collision with a big rig.

Early Saturday morning, Nipawin RCMP revealed that there were 28 people on the Broncos’ bus, and that 14 were dead, with 14 others injured, three of them critically. Later Saturday, the RCMP updated those numbers, saying that there had been 29 people on board, and that 15 of them were injured.

That other number — 14 fatalities — didn’t change.

(Later Saturday, RCMP said the number of dead now was 15, including 10 players. Also dead are two coaches, two broadcasters and the bus driver.)

The accident immediately brought back thoughts and memories of Dec. 30, 1986, when the Swift Current Broncos were involved in a single-vehicle accident in which four players died.

On that night, the Broncos were en route to Regina for a game with the Pats. Just east of Swift Current, in winter driving conditions, the bus fishtailed, went into a ditch and, at a high rate of speed, struck an approach, went airborne, ended up on its side and skidded for a distance, before coming to a stop and becoming engulfed in silence.

On Friday, the Humboldt team’s north-bound bus came into collision with the west-bound truck at an intersection and was left a mess of crumpled metal. (There are photos out there but I just can’t bring myself to post them here. Sorry.)

Stuff like this simply isn’t supposed to happen, not to junior hockey players. They are 10-feet tall and bulletproof. The bus is their sanctuary, their home away from home away from home.

The Humboldt players were from places like Slave Lake, Edmonton, Saskatoon, St. Albert, Allan, Montmartre, Airdrie, Stony Plain, Lethbridge, Humboldt . . . hockey towns, all of them.

They now were living in Humboldt, and you can bet that the community had adopted them.

Most of these players, the ones who weren’t from Humboldt, had three homes, one with their own immediate families, others with billet families. There are siblings, and the brothers and sisters of the billet families. Ask an NHLer about his relationship with his billet family and, invariably, you will find that the vast majority of the these are long-term and rock solid, too. In later years, there often are wedding anniversaries, visits during off-seasons and Christmas visits.

And then there is the team as family, one that lives a lot of the time in a dressing room and on a bus, which really is the third home.

Todd McLellan, the head coach of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, is from Melville, one of those Saskatchewan hockey towns. He cut his coaching teeth with the SJHL’s North Battlefords North Stars. He pointed out on Saturday that the team bus “is as important as the ice. It’s a part of the fabric of our game. . . . It provides camaraderie and community.”

The team bus isn’t supposed to be a coffin. It just isn’t. It’s a place for movies, complete with goofy commentary from the peanut gallery. It’s a place for music and card games and cheap shots and zingers and the kibbitzing of teenagers. It’s a place to talk about dreams and girls and, well, life.

This was supposed to have been one of the best weekends on the sporting calendar. There was Sedin magic in Vancouver on Thursday night, and the twins putting the wraps on their careers in Edmonton tonight (Saturday). There is the Masters, starring Tiger Woods, in case you hadn’t heard. It’s also the final weekend of the NHL’s regular season, and there should be some excitement there.

Meanwhile, the second round of the WHL’s playoff continues. The Lethbridge Hurricanes, Moose Jaw Warriors, Portland Winterhawks and Tri-City Americans opened with victories on Friday night. None of the victors celebrated.

“I really don’t want to be here talking to you guys,” Moose Jaw head coach Tim Hunter told media after the game. “I feel really sad for those people. All these young kids that we have on our team, and I’m sure those guys over there and throughout the Western Hockey League, they’re all connected.

“It’s not an easy thing to talk about or even think about. It makes you sick to your stomach.”

There are four more games tonight, after which the Brandon Wheat Kings, Swift Current, the Winterhawks and the Americans will board busses and head for home.

You know they will do so with heavy hearts.

Meanwhile, the junior B Kimberley Dynamiters won the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League championship on Friday night. They rode their bus to Revelstoke, where they beat the Grizzlies, 5-3. The Dynamiters climbed right back on the bus and drove home through the night. You wonder how much dread was mixed with the excitement of what was a night to remember, at least in part because of all the wrong reasons.

But what now for the SJHL?

While it’s early and the tears have yet to dry, the SJHL powers-that-be, led by Bill Chow, their president, are trying to come to grips with what has happened. Still, they will have to make a decision soon. The RBC Cup is to open on May 12 in Chilliwack, and there are schedules in place with not a lot of time with which to play.

The Estevan Bruins have been waiting to see whether they will face Humboldt or Nipawin in the SJHL’s championship final. It is obvious that Humboldt can’t continue, but I would suggest that Chow and his people will decide to forge ahead. Really, it’s the thing to do; it’s what those who won’t play again would have wanted.

The Humboldt Broncos were chasing a dream, just like the players with Estevan and Nipawin. Those who no longer are with us would want the playoffs to continue and to be played to a conclusion.

Play them in honour of the Humboldt Broncos. Dedicate the RBC Cup to a franchise that won that championship in 2003 and again in 2008.

Besides, that’s who we are. We are Canadians, we are hockey fans, and we won’t ever forget while we watch through the tears.