It’s more than just a jersey

It’s more than just a jersey

Capt (N) Jason Boyd, Base Commander ~

Even a few days removed from the April 6 bus crash that killed 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey community, there’s still so much heartache and shock to be felt.

It’s somewhat been matched by the outpouring of support for a small hockey outpost in Saskatchewan from across Canada and the world.

From millions of dollars raised in GoFundMe efforts to social media campaigns such as #PutYourSticksOut and #jerseysforhumboldt, many Canadians have helped comfort and attempted to heal a community and team that has been hurt on such a profound level.

Tragedy hitting close to home is a well-worn cliché, but this horrible event has affected me in so many personal ways, and I must admit, I, like so many other Canadians, have had a very hard time dealing with this.   

It hit me in my heart. In my gut. Where I was born. It struck my childhood, my memories growing up, and the game I love.

Growing up playing hockey in Saskatchewan, I skated in those rinks in Humboldt, Nipawin, and countless others dotted along the Prairie. I’ve taken those long, sleepy rides on the team bus that are almost as much a rite of passage as learning to skate and getting that first stick. And, of course, I have felt the bonds and brotherhoods that form on those bus rides.

We always knew when the games didn’t go our way, at least we had each other, and could escape everything else – on the bus.

When I remember those days, those dreams, and the 16 people whose lives and loves were snuffed out in such a terrible, inconceivable way, along with the countless others whose world was turned upside down on April 6, I think of what the Broncos team chaplain, Pastor Sean Brandow told a vigil gathered in Humboldt’s Elgar Peterson Arena.

Speaking from behind a row of pictures of the victims of the terrible crash days earlier, Pastor Brandow said, “I think it’s pretty fitting… I sit right behind the bench every game, and I stare at the back of your players’ heads, just like I’m doing right now. I sit there because I want to see the names on their jerseys.

“I tell every team that comes through that I’ve chaplained, there’s a name on the front of the jersey and a name on the back of the jersey. The coach’s job, the GM’s job, and really what this community’s all about and what everyone’s here for is the name on the front of the jersey. It’s huge, this team, this group of guys, that all rallied together around this one thing.

“I like to look at the name on the back of the jerseys and it’s really fitting now… I just want you to know we hurt with you. Each name represents a family.”

Those connections, to those names, from the team to the ice to the families, players, coaches, volunteers, and communities is part of what makes hockey so great and such a huge part of the fabric of this country.

Speaking of that fabric, we must not forget the pain and suffering the hometowns of these players, coaches and staff are grappling with.  These kids were raised by small communities, who witnessed their trajectories from Timbits hockey up to an elite level of Junior hockey.  The teammates, coaches, parents and friends from those towns are equally devastated, and we must keep them in our thoughts and prayers as well.

Brandow told those gathered at the arena that “our life is just a vapour. What will you do with one breath? Each breath that you have left. What are you going to do with it?”

I’ve been very lucky. That one breath, this simple game, didn’t take me to the NHL but it led me to the Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Navy. My name goes on the front of my shirt now, but I still share much of the same comradeship and team spirit with my shipmates and colleagues as I do with the people I have played hockey with over the years, and do play with today.

Rallying together around this one thing, it is huge. I hope the people of Humboldt, the Broncos, and everyone affected by this heartbreaking event can feel our love for those 16 lives, the name on front of those jerseys, and the families whose names grace the backs.

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