HUMBOLDT, Saskatchewan — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among thousands who crammed into the Humboldt Broncos’ home arena for a vigil on Sunday night honoring the junior hockey team involved in a tragic bus accident.
Broncos president Kevin Garinger choked up as he read the names of the 15 people killed, and family and friends cried and embraced.
“Not one of us is alone in our grief,” Garinger said, later encouraging the community to “continue to reach out. Reach out to one another for help and support. Across our province, our country and our globe, we will find strength in each other.”
The deceased include the head coach, the bus driver and several players. The Broncos were en route to a playoff game on Friday when their bus collided with a truck carrying peat moss. The players were between the ages of 16 and 21.
Fourteen people were injured in the crash. One, Nick Shumlanski, was released from the hospital on Sunday and was in attendance at the vigil, with a cut under his left eye and wearing his jersey.
Trudeau visited victims and families at a hospital in Saskatoon earlier in the day. At the vigil, Humboldt mayor Rob Muench thanked former members of the Swift Current Broncos, a junior hockey team that was involved in a deadly accident in the 1980s, for also visiting players in the hospital.
At Elgar Petersen Arena, a ring of flowers was placed at center ice, and more flowers and pictures of those killed lined the front of the stage. The service began with a singing of “O Canada,” followed by several prayers, readings of scriptures and a moment of silence after the singing of “Amazing Grace.”
The arena features 1,854 spectator seats. The doors were supposed to officially open at 6 p.m. local time, one hour before the ceremony began. But by 5:30 p.m., organizers said, the arena was full, and they opened the adjacent curling rink as well as the gym at the high school for overflow seating of mourners wearing green and white Broncos jerseys. The town of Humboldt, with a population of roughly 6,000, is about an hour east of Saskatoon.
Garinger said earlier Sunday that while the rest of the season will not continue, the organization will do everything in its power to field a team for 2018-19.
The community has rallied with support. At the arena, cards featuring phone numbers with 24-hour crisis lines were placed on tables in the lobby, as well as fact sheets on how to talk about tragedies with children. Crisis counselors and a half-dozen therapy dogs were stationed at the perimeter of the arena. Volunteers offered cans of sodas to attendees entering the arena. Card-making stations and boxes of tissue were placed around the building.
Mourners included hockey broadcasters Ron MacLean and Don Cherry, in addition to the many who knew the victims. The Delisle Chiefs are a junior hockey team in the Prairie Junior Hockey League and associated with the Broncos. Several players played between the teams all season.
The Chiefs were in the locker room preparing for their own playoff game on Friday night when they heard the news of the crash.
“Lots of tears,” GM Ryan Marushak said. “Lots of not understanding what’s going on. Everyone [on] our team knows someone on their team. That’s their buddies, their teammates, some of their best friends.”
The Chiefs’ playoff game has been twice postponed. A contingent of players carpooled for the nearly two-hour drive.
“We’ve all been hit pretty hard,” Chiefs captain Andrew Radek, 21, said. “We just knew we needed to be here.”