It was a difficult night for the Humboldt Broncos tonight, as the team from Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League stepped on the ice for the first since 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 game in Nipawin, Saskatchewan.
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, Humboldt took the lead 1-0 in the second period, but ended up losing the contest 2-1 to the reigning league champions.
Only two of the survivors — Derek Patter and Brayden Camrud — are back on the team this season and played tonight. Camrud recorded an assist during the game. Broncos' Michael Clarke scored the first goal of the season.
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.
Former president Kevin Garinger took the microphone to give a moving tribute to his former players, the new ones and also addressed the Nipawin Hawks, who have supported the Broncos and lived the tragedy alongside with them.
"We will move forward with them, and because of them," Garinger said of the victims of the crash in his emotional speech.
Great support was shown for the two survivors who are still battling injuries at the hospital, Morgan Gobeil and Layne Matechuk. The courage and hard work of the first responders were also celebration in the ceremony.
An emotional video of the victims was then presented to the players and local crowd, who stayed in their seats after the contest. The banner tribute took place at the same time, celebrating each and every member of the team on that bus on that tragic day.
Head coach Darcy Haugan lost his life in the crash, and his wife Christina attended the game in his honour and was seen in tears during the moving ceremony. Patter and Camrud headed her way during the banner reveal of his husband to comfort her. The players that survived the crash were celebrated by banners who said BELIEVE.
The poor players, some in uniform, were seen crying during the ceremony... Images that just break your heart.
Right after the banner tribute, the Broncos held each other as the crowd stood to ovate them.
The father of Evan Thomas, Scott, then took the microphone to speak on behalf of the families, and give thanks to everyone - every single person - who has supported them in this ordeal. Evan was one of the 16 victims.
"It's a great day to be a Broncos"
While the 2018-19 season will be a new chapter for the Broncos, the community and the families of all the people affected by the tragedy, tonight was an emotional step to take in this healing process.
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 did a great coverage of the Broncos’ first game of the season, with no stoppage and no commercial to offer an amazing experience to all viewers.