A nation mourns 

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HUMBOLDT BRONCOS WEBSITE
  • Photo courtesy of the Humboldt Broncos website

We have all been thinking it since we heard the shattering news of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team and the death of 15 souls when the team bus and a semi trailer collided at an intersection of a long, lonely stretch of Canadian highway.

That could be our local team, we think—hockey, skiing, take your pick.

Those could be our kids, our coaches, a Pique reporter.

Indeed, throughout hockey season, Pique loves to follow the exploits of our local hockey heroes who have left their Whistler homes to chase the Stanley Cup dream. For them, their families and the new families they form with their billeted parents and even siblings, team travel is just part of the life they have chosen.

Indeed, it is part of the fun, part of the experience of growing up in team sports.

And what is more Canadian than a hockey team on the bus, the camaraderie before game time, the last minute coaches corner at the front of the bus, the undeniable knowledge that every kid had NHL dreams?

And what is more Canadian than all the hockey parents bringing up each other's kids for the love of the game ... and waiting for the call that tells them their son or daughter is home safe from the game?

Humboldt is about half Whistler's size, its local paper The Humboldt Journal is a sister paper of the Pique's.

And while many of the team were players from other parts of the prairie provinces, billeted with local families so they could play for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, all had become part of the Humboldt family. Because that is what it is to be a hockey nation.

The players, coaches, team statistician and their play-by-play reporter were on their way to Game 5 in the semi-finals of the playoffs in Nipawin about 200 kilometres away when the collision happened April 6 about 5 p.m. at an intersection that is no stranger to tragedy.

Along with those killed, 14 others were injured, several seriously—a few remain in comas.

While it will be many months before accident investigators can say with any certainty how the crash occurred, today the how of what happened seems less important than how we can help those in need and how we can make sure this never happens again.

This is not the first time Canada has suffered a collective broken heart from the loss of teen team players. On Jan. 13, 2008, seven members of a school basketball team and their teacher-coach were killed in Bathurst, N.B. when the 15-passenger van they were driving in lost control on a slushy section of highway and crashed. Separate reports on the tragedy by the RCMP and Transport Canada identified safety problems with the 15-seat-van, including worn all-season tires, broken brakes and a rusting body.

An RCMP report said the 1997 Ford Club Wagon would not have passed safety inspection at the time of the accident.

Today, a highway marker of the accident still draws mourners and there is little doubt that the Humboldt accident has sent reverberations of loss throughout Bathurst again, as it marks 10 years since its own tragedy.

Following that accident, Isabelle Hains, who lost her son Daniel, started Van Angels—an advocacy group that has successfully pushed for changes in the vehicles and rules used for student travel.

Already, questions have been raised about the intersection where the transport trailer, hauling peat moss collided with the Humboldt Broncos bus. Photos show that the highway the bus was travelling on had the right of way while the trailer had a stop sign, with a flashing red light. There is also a copse of trees on the corner that may have obscured the view of the drivers of both vehicles. The driver of the semi trailer walked away from the accident.

In the months to come, transportation officials need to consider whether the intersection should perhaps be a four-way stop and whether the trees should be thinned to allow better visibility.

But these are all questions for the future.

Today, it is time to say to all those affected that we are with them, that this hockey nation honours their loss and while we can't bring their loved ones back we will remember them.

Put your stick out...

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