By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
It happened 2,000 miles away. It happened to a small town many may not have heard of.
It was still felt here at home in Phoenix.
On the afternoon of April 6, a bus carrying 28 members of the Humboldt Broncos, a Junior A hockey team in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, was involved in a deadly accident with a semi-trailer on its way to a playoff game in Nipawin, Saskatchewan, Canada. The crash claimed the lives of 16 people on board the bus. This included 10 players, the bus driver Glen Doerksen, radio broadcaster Tyler Bieber, statistician Brody Hinz, athletic therapist Dayna Brons, assistant coach Mark Cross and head coach Darcy Haugan.
All across the hockey community in Canada, the United States and the world, the town of Humboldt and all families and friends involved have received a continuous outpouring of support. A GoFundMe campaign was started soon after to help raise money for all affected. As of this writing, more than $14 million has been donated, shattering the initial goal of $4 million.
A part of that support has carried on here at Grand Canyon University. The Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey teams were out on campus Friday the 13th to spread awareness about the story, and help raise funds for Humboldt and the team. Jerseys, pucks and various team memorabilia was raffled off to assist in the donations. In all, more than $1,100 was donated to go toward the GoFundMe campaign.
The event itself was more than just raising money and awareness. There was a deeper meaning as to why GCU Ice Hockey decided to put on the event. Lopes’ players Michael Barabash, Wyatt Grant and Travis Green all played junior hockey in Canada, and all knew players on the Humboldt Broncos. They all understand what it means to play far away from home in a small town – all for a sport you love.
“You’re moving away at 16, 17, 18 years old, and moving eight hours away from all your friends and family and really become brothers,” Grant said. “They’re always there. They always support you. Hockey is such a passionate game. It just spreads over the people who play it.”
Barabash, who once played in the SJHL with the Nipawin Hawks, helped organize the event. Upon hearing about the accident, Barabash admits it took him a couple of days to regain his focus. But his reasoning for coordinating the fundraiser was straightforward.
“I was on those road trips. Those were people that I knew,” Barabash said. “It hit me really hard. I just wanted to make sure that even though I’m down here, far away, we could still do the right thing as a school, and try and get some money raised for such a terrible event.”
Remembering the Players
After Nipawin, Barabash was traded to the Spruce Grove Saints of the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2016. That’s where he became a teammate of Conner Lukan, one of the 16 who died. Only 19 years old at the time, it was a jarring transition for Barabash, moving from one small town to another. However, one of the first guys to introduce himself to Barabash – and help him be a part of the team – was Lukan.
“Just the niceness of him is something that really stood out,” Barabash said. “He was giving me rides to the games, and we hung out away from the rink. He was just a really good guy, and really made me feel comfortable where I didn’t know a single person.
“I was lucky enough to get to know him for a while and spend some time with him.”
Grant hails from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and either played with or against four members of the Broncos. When Grant played in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League in 2013-2014, he played many times against Broncos’ team captain and centerman Logan Schatz, who also died in the crash.
“He was a character person,” Grant said. “He was obviously very talented, but the best thing about him is that when you talked with him, you felt like you were his best friend.”
The three others who Grant knows – right-winger Kaleb Dahlgren, defenseman Xavier Labelle and center Nick Shumlanski – all survived. Shumlanski has been released from the hospital with only minor injuries. Dahlgren and Labelle still remain in the hospital, but are recovering.
Grant described Shumlanski as nice, honest and welcoming. He knows Labelle – his former summer hockey league teammate – as a quiet, intelligent person who speaks both English and French. Grant has known Dahlgren since playing on the same Peewee team at the age of 10. Both attended the same high school, and faced off against one another throughout their junior hockey careers. Looking back, Wyatt reflected on Dahlgren’s influence on his life even now.
“Kaleb is literally the nicest person in the world,” Grant said. “The kind of nice that it almost makes you mad. If you get a little frustrated with him, he’s still nice with you. Seeing him and his fight and his kindness has definitely rubbed off on myself.”
Green moved to Lethbridge, Alberta at 13 years of age to play with the Lethbridge Bantam AA Raiders. That’s where he met defenseman Logan Boulet, also one of the 16 who died. Green only played a season with Boulet, but residing in the same town helped them to remain in contact during the offseason.
“He was probably one of the more leader-type guys I’ve ever played with,” Green said. “He’s the kind of guy that would go out there and do anything that was asked of him. He had a deep passion for the game.”
Green remembered Boulet for his selflessness, leadership and smile, but says all will remember him for the legacy he leaves behind. Boulet signed up to be an organ donor just weeks before the accident, and since then, his organs have gone on to save six other lives. Because of his story, Canada has begun to see a large increase in the number of organ donor registrants.
“That was kind of the legacy that his family wants to live on, and I know it definitely will,” Green said. “He genuinely cared about a lot of people in his life.”
That legacy is just a small part of how the hockey community and Humboldt will remember the Broncos. Moving forward, it will take some time for there to be a new team on the ice. Barabash, Grant and Green all have no doubt, though, that the resiliency of the Humboldt and surrounding communities will bring the Broncos back.
“I would love nothing more than to see them come back,” Green said. “With something like this, it is going to take some time to heal, but I feel like the Broncos will be back, and they’ll be a stronger team because of it.”