It is a new season, they have a new head coach, new players in the roster. However, the memories of the Humboldt Broncos from last season will never be replaced or forgotten.
The Broncos are playing their first game of the new season tonight since the night of April 6 that 16 people, including 10 players, were killed and 13 others injured in a bus crash as the team was traveling to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League game in Nipawin, Saskatchewan.
Ahead of the game, the members of the Humboldt and hockey community honoured the fallen victims by carrying on the #SticksOutForHumboldt tradition with 16 sticks placed inside the arena.
The Broncos are playing to help the community of Humboldt heal.
The Broncos are facing the Nipawin Hawks, the same junior A hockey team the Broncos were on their way to play April 6 when their bus collided with a tractor-trailer at a rural intersection. Only two of the survivors — Derek Patter and Brayden Camrud — are back on the team this season and are playing tonight. Amongst the survivors, two currently remain in hospital suffering from brain injuries, while two others were paralyzed in the crash.
When Patter and Camrud hit the ice during the presentations, they held each other as the crowd stood for them. Upon his entree on the ice, Camrud hit his chest and pointed to the sky for his fallen teammates.
The crowd went wild as the former players, who were involved in the crash but survived, entered the rink during the pre-game ceremony.
Head coach Darcy Haugan lost his life in the crash, and his wife Christina attended the game in his honour.
The rivals, the Nipawin Hawks, were also ovated as they hit the ice since they always supported the Broncos following the tragedy. Both clubs and the audience held a precious moment of silence before the game in honour of the victims and their families.
In a break of tradition, the survivors present at the game did the puck drop to their teammates Patter and Camrud. The boys teared up before the puck hit the ice. They held each other before the national anthem.
Five months and six days ago was a tragic day, but now the Broncos begin anew and look forward without forgetting their friends. The Broncos will be back on the team bus Friday for a game in Nipawin and will continue playing as they persevere in their healing process.
TSN is doing a great coverage of the Broncos' first game of the season.
UPDATE: After the game, there was an emotional celebration as the numbers and names of the 29 people on that bus were honoured in a ceremonial banner tribute. The numbers of the players involved in that trash will be retired, never to be worn again. They will never be replaced or forgotten.