Aaron Luprypa (left) goes five-hole to beat Mark Nichiporuk while Dave Forai trails the play as the Sutton Group realtors takes part in an impromptu Jersey Day road hockey game in the staff parking lot Thursday. Thousands of Canadians wore jerseys from any sport to support the Humboldt Broncos. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Aaron Luprypa (left) goes five-hole to beat Mark Nichiporuk while Dave Forai trails the play as the Sutton Group realtors takes part in an impromptu Jersey Day road hockey game in the staff parking lot Thursday. Thousands of Canadians wore jerseys from any sport to support the Humboldt Broncos. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Tragedy hits home

AT RANDOM: Humboldt crash prompts sports editor Kevin Mitchell to reflect on his time on the road

We pulled into the old pitch-black Winnipeg Arena around 2 a.m. half asleep but instantly rejuvenated at the sight of ice.

Sniper Harry Mahood, a Winnipeg product, was especially excited at playing for the Nanaimo Islanders in front of family and friends. He and I grabbed a stick, and using light from the tunnel where the bus was parked, passed the puck around. Goalie Pokey Reddick, who later made the NHL, rubbed the sleep from his eyes and joined us for a few minutes.

I made a point of slowly walking up the steep stairs to the press box for a closer peak at the gigantic photo of the Queen.

This was the fall of 1982 and my first experience at a prairie junior hockey road trip. I was the colour analyst for the CHUB Radio broadcast team, led by play-by-play man Dick Getz, a Penticton native. I was also sports editor for the Nanaimo Daily Free Press. I was 25, but felt like a kid riding Space Mountain at Disneyland for the first time.

Bill Zeitlin of Detroit owned the WHL Isles, shifting them from Billings, Montana for that season. The veteran players like Mahood, Regina 76-goal superstar Jim McGeough and Surrey’s Bob Rouse were expecting a long grinding bus ride to play the expansion Prince Albert Raiders, Saskatoon Blades, Regina Pats, Brandon Wheat Kings and Winnipeg Warriors.

Zeitlin, a minority owner of the Chicago White Sox, surprised everybody by scheduling a flight from Vancouver to Saskatoon, where GM Les Calder had arranged to borrow the Brandon bus for the road miles.

Some of the windows didn’t close on what was back then affectionately known as the Iron Lung. There were a few bunks but they were hardly comfy like some of today’s hotels on wheels. The bus looked like it only had a few miles left, but nobody was complaining.

In Junior hockey, the bus is the team’s sanctuary. You can be yourself, take loads of razzing, and while you are inches away from your seat mate, really get to know the guy beside you. Rouse, one of the most feared fighters in the WHL, was among the quietest guys on the bus. He also made the NHL. Others like Mahood, who talked hockey in his sleep, were more vocal.

The Detroit rookies like Alfie Turcotte, a Habs’ first-round pick the next summer, and John LaFontaine, also said little, and as was the custom back then, carried the veterans’ equipment bag into each rink.

Despite the rickety Wheaties’ bus, I felt safe. I never once thought: ‘What if we crash?’

I sat next to Calder, a beauty from Saskatchewan who wore cowboy boots and talked with somewhat of a Southern drawl. Les played two years of Junior hockey for the Melville Millionaires and then spent 15 years in the minor Bus Leagues. He was unfazed by the shape of the Brandon bus. I never got any sleep on that bus trip, but I got to know Calder well.

And I know the players formed lifetime friendships on that trek. Our bus rides to Victoria, Portland and Seattle seemed like a Sunday stroll compared to that prairie expedition.

I tell this story to perhaps give some a sense of why the Humboldt Broncos bus crash has brought our great hockey nation closer and caused so many tears.

See related Community shows Broncos support

There aren’t many duds or bad apples, as they are called, in the Junior hockey fraternity. These young men were cherished and loved by everybody in Humboldt. They also loved one another like family. The players killed in the Tisdale crash will be forever remembered and enshrined in some way by the team, just like Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff of the Swift Current Broncos were after a 1986 bus accident.

Those four were sitting at back of the bus when it hit a patch of black ice, struck an embankment and landed on its side. Those four, like the Humboldt Broncos, were enjoying the company of their teammates and loving life as a Junior hockey player.

This Humboldt tragedy is another example of just how precious life is, and how quickly and harshly it can be snuffed out. Be strong Bronco families, friends and fans.


@vernonnews
newsroom@vernonmorningstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Realtor Debbie Steenkamp makes an enormous, if not unorthodox, save during Sutton Realty Group’s impromptu Jersey Day road hockey game in the staff parking lot Thursday. Thousands of Canadians wore jerseys from all sports to support the Humboldt Broncos. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Realtor Debbie Steenkamp makes an enormous, if not unorthodox, save during Sutton Realty Group’s impromptu Jersey Day road hockey game in the staff parking lot Thursday. Thousands of Canadians wore jerseys from all sports to support the Humboldt Broncos. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Just Posted

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
57 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

Thirty people in the region are in hospital, 16 of whom are in intensive care

Grizzly bear. (File)
Malakwa man bitten by grizzly bear on dog walk

The man and dogs were not seriously injured

The downtown kiosks were recently painted black. Tourism Revelstoke said decals still need to be added and information inside the kiosks will also be updated. The city said the black paint is temporary as the area is slotted to be completely revamped in the coming years. (Liam Harrap - Revelstoke Review)
Newly painted black Revelstoke kiosks temporary fix; city

The recent colour changed caused an uproar on Facebook

A hummingbird gives its wings a rare rest while feeding in a North Okanagan garden. (Karen Siemens/North Okanagan Naturalists Club)
Hummingbirds back for another Okanagan season

North America’s littlest birds return, and they’re hungry

Jaxon Renyard donates $240 worth of food to the food bank. The donation was accepted by Hannah Whitney and Melissa Hemphill of Community Connections. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review)
9 year old donates $240 worth of groceries to foodbank

Southside Market and Save On Food matched his donation, bumping up the total

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

(Kingfisher Boats photo)
In the market for a boat in the North Okanagan? Be prepared to wait

Vernon’s Kingfisher Boats is out of 2021 models, with many 2022 models already pre-sold

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

FILE – A student arrives at school as teachers dressed in red participate in a solidarity march to raise awareness about cases of COVID-19 at Ecole Woodward Hill Elementary School, in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. ‘should be able to’ offer 1st dose of COVID vaccine to kids 12+ by end of June: Henry

Health Canada authorized the vaccine for younger teens this morning

A woman in the Harrison Mills area was attacked by a cougar on Tuesday, May 4. B.C. Conservation Officers killed two male cougars in the area; the attack was determined to be predatory in nature. (File photo)
2 cougars killed following attack on woman in Agassiz area

Attack victim remains in hospital in stable condition

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. CDC updates info, acknowledging small respiratory droplets can spread COVID-19

Large droplets, not aerosols had been fixture of public health messaging for many months

George Ryga, considered by many as Canada’s most important English playwright lived in Summerland from 1963 until his death in 1987. He is the inspiration for the annual Ryga Arts Festival. (Contributed)
Summerland archive established for George Ryga

Renowned author wrote novels, poetry, stage plays and screen plays from Summerland home

Most Read