Scattershooting: Hawks, Bruins all even in SJHL final . . . Gotta love D.J. Kennington’s car . . . Broncos and Warriors to decide it tonight

Scattershooting


The SJHL’s championship final is all even after the host Nipawin Hawks posted a 4-1 victory over the Estevan Bruins before 1,122 fans on Sunday night. . . . The Bruins had SJHLwon the opener, 5-2, in Nipawin on Saturday night. . . . Last night, F Adam Beckman led the Hawks with two goals, his first two of the playoffs. Beckman, a fifth-round selection by the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft, played this season for the midget AAA Battlefords Stars. . . . Beckman has played three playoff games with the Hawks. He had one goal and one assist in the only regular-season game he played with Nipawin. . . . The Hawks also got two goals from F Logan Casavant, who has six in the playoffs. . . . F Arthur Miller had Estevan’s lone goal, his seventh. . . . The teams combined to take 24 minors. . . . Nipawin got 23 saves from G Declan Hobbs, while Estevan’s Bo Didur stopped 34 shots. . . . They’ll play the next two games in Estevan on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, with a fifth game back in Nipawin on Friday night.


The Estevan Bruins climbed on their bus Friday and headed for Nipawin, where they were scheduled to start the SJHL’s championship final against the Hawks on Saturday night. En route, the Hawks made a stop — they spent 30 minutes at the site where the Humboldt Broncos’ bus crashed into a big rig on the afternoon of April 6. . . . Chris Lewgood, the Bruins’ general manager and head coach, told Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post that stop was “the first step for a lot of the guys toward closure.” . . . The Bruins went on to win Game 1, 5-2. . . . Vanstone has more on the Bruins right here.


More from Vanstone:

“The Humboldt Broncos went into overtime and, as a result, so did two thoughtful employees at the Domo C-Store (in Nipawin).

“Just as March 30 was becoming March 31, a weary band of Broncos walked into a convenience store near the southern outskirts of Nipawin.

“Earlier that evening, the host Hawks had outlasted Humboldt 3-2 to open a best-of-seven SJHL semi-final. Michael Grant had scored the winner for Nipawin at 2:33 of the second overtime session.

Due to the marathon contest, the Broncos did not arrive at the Domo C-Store until just before midnight — closing time, in other words.

Four Humboldt players barely beat the buzzer, arriving at 11:59 p.m. With the team bus parked outside, the rest of the Broncos trickled in.”

The rest of the story, which is right here, is well worth your time.



If they put this beauty — it’s D.J. Kennington’s Castrol Edge Dodge — on toy shelves as a die-cast car, I really wonder how many thousands would be sold . . .


The Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos will decide their second-round WHL series tonight (Monday) when they meet for a seventh game. . . . The Warriors forced Game 7 with a 3-2 victory in triple OT in Swift Current on Saturday night. Moose Jaw got 58 saves from G Brody Willms, with F Jayden Halbgewachs, the WHL’s leading sniper in the regular season, scoring the winner, on a PP, 74 seconds into the third period. . . . The Broncos had a 1-0 lead and a 28-9 edge in shots through two periods, then took a 2-0 lead at 3:35 of the third period. . . . G Stuart Skinner stopped 35 shots for the Broncos. . . . The winner of Game 7 will meet the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final. . . . Darren Steinke, the travelling blogger, was at Game 6 and writes about it right here.


When I was a youngster, oh, how I loved my table hockey game, the one with the metal players, all of whom played for the Montreal Canadiens or the Toronto Maple Leafs. Hey, there weren’t any other options with my game. . . . It turns out that the likeness for those players actually had a model. As Tom Hawthorn writes in The Globe and Mail, the likeness was that of Dick Gamble, a long-time pro hockey player who died on March 22. . . . Hawthorn’s obituary for Gamble is right here.

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Sheldon Kennedy, Swift Current and the healing process

These days, Sheldon Kennedy works at helping other people heal, and Sunday was no exception.

Kennedy survived the bus crash involving the Swift Current Broncos on Dec. 30, 1986. He also survived sexual abuse at the hands of Graham James, who was the general manager and head coach of those Broncos.

These days, Kennedy travels the country as an advocate for children and others who have been, or continue to be, victims of sexual abuse. He also spends a lot of time working on behalf of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary, the goal of which is to stop the cycle of abuse.

On Sunday, Kennedy was in Saskatoon to visit with, and offer support to, survivors of Friday’s crash in which 15 people aboard the Humboldt Broncos’ bus lost their lives and the 14 survivors all were injured. The Broncos were en route to Nipawin, where they were to have played the Hawks in Game 5 of a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League semifinal series.

Kennedy, Peter Soberlak and Bob Wilkie, all of whom survived the Swift Current bus crash, and Darren Kruger, whose brother Scott died in that accident, arrived in Saskatoon on Sunday, then later travelled to Humboldt for a prayer vigil.

This kind of support is certain to help Humboldt and the Broncos’ family with the healing process, a process that really won’t end.

For proof of that, let’s revisit the City of Swift Current and all that its citizens have gone through since that blustery day in late December of 1986.

Only James and his victims knew at that time what was going on behind closed doors. The survivors of the bus crash went on to play again and, in fact, won the Memorial Cup in the spring of 1989, still with James at the helm.

The Broncos’ success was seen as an avenue to healing in Swift Current, a city of about 16,000 people who absolutely loved their hockey team.

In time, the players moved on with their lives, some going into pro hockey, others on to careers.

Kennedy was one who went on to pro hockey. Then, in 1996, Kennedy, a troubled individual by that time, blew the whistle on James, who by now was with the Calgary Hitmen. James was charged on Nov. 22 with two counts of sexual assault involving more than 300 encounters with a pair of former players over a 10-year period.

The national media, which 10 years earlier had descended on Swift Current with tears in its eyes and empathy in its words, returned, only this time it was pointing fingers. It had questions. Who knew what? When did they know it? You didn’t know anything? Why didn’t you know?

The citizens of Swift Current, who had healed perhaps as well as you ever will from the loss of four sons, withdrew into their homes and pulled down the shades. Now they were being forced to relive the past over and over and over again. Whenever James resurfaced in the public eye — and it was often — Swift Current found itself back in the spotlight. “Here we go again” could have been the city’s motto.

Through all of this, Kennedy had what was at best an arm’s-length relationship with Swift Current. He returned in 2009 for a 20-year reunion of the Memorial Cup team, but admitted to feeling that there still were “a lot of skeletons” in the community.

That changed on May 27, 2016, when Kennedy, by now mature and well into his role as an advocate, was in Swift Current to be inducted into the Broncos’ Hall of Fame. It was almost 30 years since the accident and Kennedy wanted to let the city know that it was OK to let go, that it was OK to hold your head high and to move on.

“I think it’s another day to give us all permission to move forward in a positive direction and forgive ourselves but not forget,” Kennedy told the crowd at the banquet and induction ceremony. “I think that’s important, and understanding the important role of sport and understanding the important role of community and raising kids and making sure that we create that healthy atmosphere (in which) to do so. . . . we can move beyond tragic events and there’s hope. It has to be about hope and there’s hope to learn, to accept and to move on. I think that’s important and that’s what today is, and for that it means a lot to me.”

That was the day when Kennedy made Swift Current his city.

One thing that Kennedy and Wilkie have always remembered is that they were left to heal on their own in the aftermath of the bus accident.

In his book Why I Didn’t Say Anything, Kennedy wrote: “You would have thought that someone in charge would have arranged for the survivors to receive therapy to help them deal with the shock and grief following the accident, but none of us received any kind of professional help. Nobody seemed to want to talk about what happened.”

Kennedy, in the book Sudden-Death: The Incredible Saga of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos, put it this way: “The idea that Graham James got us through the bus crash is insulting. We didn’t rally around him. The players rallied. He had nothing to do with it. And he kept the professional help from the team because he didn’t want anyone to know he was a sexual predator — keeping out professional help was his idea, not the players’. The idea of keeping the dressing room door closed came from him.”

Wilkie, meanwhile, told Eric Francis of Postmedia: “We weren’t allowed to talk about it for fear his dirty secret would come out. My mom wondered for years why we were never given any of the resources we needed to cope with it properly. Those who wanted help were told ‘no’ by Graham. Now we know why.”

That — wanting to help — was the motivation for the quick decision to fly into Saskatoon on Sunday. They know that unlike 1986 there will be professional help available to people impacted by what transpired on Highway No. 35 near Nipawin on Friday night.

At the same time, Kennedy, Soberlak and Wilkie are among the few who have survived this kind of tragedy and know that they have something to offer.

At the same time, the people of Humboldt, with its population of about 6,000, know that the hurt isn’t going to go away anytime soon. You never want to lose the memories, but there are times when you don’t want to hurt. But it always will be there, to one degree or another.

And just when you think that maybe it is gone, there will be an accident somewhere and people will remember what happened to Humboldt’s hockey team on April 6, 2018, and the spotlight will return.

If you don’t believe it, just ask the people of Swift Current, who no doubt have been reliving it all for the past two days.

Scattershooting in the aftermath of tragedy

Scattershooting

Logan Boulet, a defenceman from Lethbridge who turned 21 on March 2, was among the players who died on Friday in the tragedy involving the SJHL’s Humboldt Broncos.

Boulet had signed his organ donor card upon turning 21, and his organs will benefit others. He was kept on life support into Saturday in order to allow that to happen.

Liam Nixon of Global Lethbridge tweeted a statement from Logan’s father, Toby, on Saturday evening. Part of that statement: “Despite other media reports today, Logan’s strong heart continues to beat this evening. The final harvesting of Logan’s organs will take place overnight, now that he has positive matches for all organs donated.”

Earlier, Nixon had reported that Logan “is giving new hope to at least six different people.”

Neil Langevin, a family friend of the Boulets, was Logan’s godfather. Langevin tweeted that a surgical team from the U of Alberta hospital would travel to Saskatoon “for organ transplant procedures. There have been matches made for all vital organs, including a patient set to receive his heart and lungs. . . . The family will stay with Logan until the surgery begins at around 2 a.m.”

Langevin added: “Following the organ surgery, his other organs will be donated to science as he requested. These actions alone give voice to the selfless and benevolent nature Logan possessed in life for others, truly taught and fostered by Toby and Bernie.”

As someone whose wife was did peritoneal dialysis for four years before being the beneficiary of a kidney transplant, I will admit there were tears when I read all of this news. There really aren’t words at a time like this, but a heartfelt ‘Thank you’ — along with the deepest condolences — to Logan’s family and friends.



Glen Doerksen was driving the Humboldt Broncos’ bus at the time of the accident. He didn’t survive the crash. He also drove for the Kinistino Tigers of the Wheatland Senior Hockey League. . . . Dave Deibert of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has more on Doerksen right here.


Sheldon Kennedy, Peter Soberlak and Bob Wilkie were players with the 1986-87 Swift Current Broncos and survived the bus crash on Dec. 30, 1986, that claimed the lives of four teammates. Kennedy, Soberlak and Wilkie are scheduled to arrive in Humboldt today (Sunday) and will provide help and support where they can.


On Saturday evening, I received an email from a relative of one of the injured players. “His Mother is there and having mixed emotions with her son surviving with other Mothers losing sons,” read part of the email. . . . Yes, survivor’s guilt is something with which people will have to deal, which is among the many reasons that counsellors are being made available.



One of the things we need to keep in mind at a time like this is that because of social media, spring/summer hockey and travelling teams, players throughout hockey are often more than acquainted with so many more players than players of yesteryear. Thus, a tragedy of this nature will have a far greater and more personal impact on more players than even the accident involving the Swift Current Broncos.



While general manager/head coach Darcy Haugan and assistant coach Mark Cross were among the fatalities, athletic therapist Dayna Brons survived and is recovering from undisclosed injuries in hospital. From Lake Lenore, Sask., she is a graduate (kinesiology and health studies) of the U of Regina. Brons is in her second season with the Broncos.


Darcy Haugan, 41, leaves behind his wife, Christine, and two sons, Carson and Jackson. Christine works for the Broncos as their office manager.


If you click right here, you will find a person-by-person look at many of those killed or injured in the crash involving the Humboldt Broncos’ bus.


Devin Cannon and his wife, Rene, provided a billet home for three of the Humboldt Broncos players — D Xavier Labelle, 18, from Saskatoon; F Logan Hunter, from St. Albert, Alta.; and D Adam Herold, who was to turn 17 on Thursday. Herold spent this season as the captain of the midget AAA Regina Pat Canadians. When their season ended, he joined the Broncos. . . . Labelle, Hunter and Herold all died in the crash.


F Evan Thomas, 18, also died in the accident. From Saskatoon, his father, Scott, played for the Moose Jaw Warriors (1988-91) and Tacoma Rockets (1991-91) and now is involved in hockey as the president of the midget AAA Saskatoon Blazers. Evan was in his first season with the Broncos. . . . F Jaxon Joseph, 20, was the son of Chris Joseph, a defenceman who played with the Seattle Thunderbirds (1985-88) before going on to a pro career that included 510 NHL games. . . . Jaxon played 21 games with the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles in 2015-16, before joining the SJHL’s Melfort Mustangs where he spent last season. He played 16 games with the Mustangs this season before being acquired by the Broncos.


Another email that I received on Saturday evening pointed out that “in my opinion, buses are a terrific mode of transport. I have been riding in/driving a bus for close to 40 years and in that time there are only a couple of times that were scary. Buses, inherently, with their long wheel base are very stable in almost all conditions — fog and black ice being the exceptions. Kudos to all the drivers out there who have done such an outstanding job all these years.” (The afore-mentioned email didn’t come from Bob Ridley.)

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.