On Friday afternoon, WHL fans were busy getting ready for Round 2 of the WHL Playoffs. It was shaping up to be an exciting weekend here and further afield in the OHL, where players were preparing for the draft.
Humboldt Broncos Remind Us We’re All on the Same Team
Then I opened my Twitter feed to headlines that read “junior hockey team bus crashes. Multiple fatalities confirmed.” I’m old enough to remember the Swift Current Broncos bus crash. I was the same age as many of their players. It was that same feeling all over again. Getting excited about a big playoff weekend became instantly irrelevant. It doesn’t matter where you live or who your team is. This is hockey. We are family and we’re all on the same team.
Western Hockey League
Just last weekend, it looked like the Portland Winterhawks might not survive a comeback by the Spokane Chiefs in the first round. Watching the Winterhawks this year has been like watching two different teams. You didn’t always know which one was going to show up. The Hawks ultimately eliminated Spokane in Game 7 and advanced to play the Everett Silvertips. As I always do, I checked throughout the day to make sure the team made it safely to Angel of the Winds Arena. Secure in the knowledge my hometown team had arrived safely in Everett, I went about my day. Then I re-opened my Twitter account for game day updates. It didn’t take but a few seconds to learn what had happened.
The bar is set very high for junior players who want to play in the NHL. So much that we sometimes forget they are just kids, some of whom are barely old enough to drive. This is just a game, after all. But right now, it’s about more than the game. Saturday night, teams across the WHL united in a show of support for the Humboldt Broncos. Teams donated their 50/50 proceeds to help the families with medical or other costs. The show did go on this weekend, but it felt wrong to get excited about it. I was proud to see my own hometown team and their competition unite to honor and support the Broncos. Fans can help via a GoFundMe page created by local Humboldt resident Sylvie Kellington. The fund has raised $4,162,333 since it was set up on Friday night. That’s hockey. We are family, plain and simple.
Ontario Hockey League
300 Players Chosen in Priority Selection
Draft day is a lot like high school graduation. It’s the first day of the rest of your life. That’s a hard concept to embrace when players who were chasing the same dreams just lost their lives. The OHL Priority Selection proceeded as planned, presenting a brief moment of hope as young players Tweeted out their thanks for being drafted.
Led by first overall pick Quinton Byfield (Sudbury Wolves), 20 players were chosen in the first round. 300 players were selected from 98 different teams across Ontario and parts of the United States. 292 players were 2002-born. Also eligible were non-overage players not carded with an Ontario-based Midget AAA team from protected OHL territories. Five players born in 2001, and three players born in 2000 were chosen. They are all about the same age as the younger members of the Humboldt Broncos. The draft should have been a day of excitement and celebration, but the players who are on Twitter put the focus where it belongs. I continue to be humbled and amazed by junior hockey players, perhaps now more than ever. They understand more than any of us that we’re all on the same team. Their words and actions reflect that.
Quebec Major Junior Hockey League
In junior hockey, hidden gems often end up stealing the show. Alex Barré-Boulet was originally drafted by the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the sixth round of the 2013 QMJHL Draft, 102nd overall. He went undrafted by an NHL team during his years of eligibility. However, he was invited to training camps in 2016 (Los Angeles Kings) and 2017 (Vegas Golden Knights). Barré-Boulet didn’t strike gold until last month when the Tampa Bay Lightning signed him to an entry-level deal. The Armada are currently a favourite to win the President’s Cup. They are undefeated in the 2018 playoffs. Barré-Boulet and his linemates are a big reason why.
Barré-Boulet, Alexandre Alain and Drake Batherson scored a collective total of 126 goals during the 2017-2018 regular season. They have combined for 31 points in four playoff games. Their personal offensive attack shows no signs of abating. The Armada just defeated the Moncton Wildcats in Game 2 of the second round by a score of 9-3. Barré-Boulet had a hat trick. Alain had two goals and two assists. Batherson had four assists. The Armada now lead the series 2-0. If this were any other day, I’d be excited. But this isn’t an ordinary day. The Armada and the Wildcats joined together at centre ice for a pre-game ceremony to honour the Broncos. Players also wore Broncos decals on the back of their helmets to honour players. Coaches wore a green and yellow ribbon on their jackets. These are all just a few highlights of the worldwide support for the Broncos, which came from as far away as Australia.
We’re All on the Same Team
Dennis Cholowski recently told the Prince George media that “we’re all just here to play hockey.” He’s right. Junior hockey is a place where players grow into young adults and top-notch NHL athletes. It doesn’t matter which team they play for. They are all trying to get to the same place. Junior hockey is a place where they should feel safe and supported and above all things, that they are part of a larger family. They are. That extended family is out there right now, donating to the GoFundMe page, Tweeting words of support and respect and leaving flowers at the local rink in Humboldt. We will always remember the Humboldt Broncos because they are more than just a hockey team. They are part of the hockey family.
Main Photo: A man wears a Humboldt Broncos shirt during a vigil at the Elgar Petersen Arena, home of the Humboldt Broncos, to honour the victims of a fatal bus accident, April 8, 2018 in Humboldt, Canada.
Mourners in the tiny Canadian town of Humboldt, still struggling to make sense of a devastating tragedy, prepared Sunday for a prayer vigil to honor the victims of the truck-bus crash that killed 15 of their own and shook North American ice hockey. )Photo by Jonathan Hayward, / AFP / Getty Images)