HUMBOLDT, Sask. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says all of Canada will be cheering for the Humboldt Broncos tonight when the Saskatchewan junior hockey team plays their first game since a fatal bus crash.
Speaking at a Liberal caucus meeting in Saskatoon, Trudeau said the community of Humboldt suffered unimaginable shock, grief and trauma in April when the team’s bus and a tractor-trailer collided at a rural intersection.
Sixteen people, including 10 players, were killed and 13 players were injured.
“Canadians everywhere were heartbroken and we mourned alongside the community,” he told his caucus on Wednesday. “But in the wake of this tragedy, Humboldt has shown incredible resilience and strength.
“Canadians were quick to share their love, support, generosity and kindness in a moment when it was so desperately needed. So to the people of Humboldt, know that we are with you. Know that we will continue to support you as you heal.”
The Broncos are to play their home opener tonight against the Nipawin Hawks — the same team the Broncos were supposed to face the night of the crash.
Trudeau said he’s glad that the Broncos will be back on the ice tonight and he wished them the very best.
“You have us and 37 million fans cheering you on,” he said to applause.
Jamie Brockman, president of the Humboldt Broncos, said the team is grateful for all the support it has received from across Canada and the world. Tonight’s game and tribute to last year’s team is a turning point for many, he said Wednesday.
“We’re going to find out what our new normal is after today,” Brockman said. “Hockey is back in Humboldt. We are strong and we are going to survive and we are going to move forward.”
The main entrance to the Elgar Petersen Arena was lined with pictures of all 16 people who died in the crash before the game.
Sixteen hockey sticks adorned with green and yellow ribbons were lined up outside. Nearby a green bench was emblazoned with the words ”Always in our hearts. 29 on the fateful ride, 16 souls died.”
Former Broncos player Ryan Straschnitzki, who was paralyzed from the chest down in the crash, opted not to watch the season opener in person. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to watch the game on TV even though it’s been on his mind.
“It’s not my team anymore,” Straschnitzki said. “I wish them the best of luck but it’s not my team and it’s going to be hard to watch knowing that I should be out there.”
Tom Straschnitzki said he understands why his son might be hesitant.
“He should be playing in this home opener today as with the other players,” he said. “It’s a difficult day.”
Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter are the only two survivors that are back playing with the junior A team this season.
The Broncos lost their coach, Darcy Haugan, in the crash. “It’s a great day to be a Bronco, gentlemen” — something Haugan often told his players — is now enscribed outside the team’s dressing room.
The team’s new coach, Nathan Oystrick, said he’s focusing on his players and has spoken with every member at some point to let them know he is there for them.
“I’m an open guy,” he said Tuesday. ”If there is something that is bothering them, they can come and talk to me whenever they want.”
— With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary. Follow @RyanBMcKenna and @BillGraveland on Twitter
Ryan McKenna, The Canadian Press