By Bill Burt
The Eagle Tribune
A bus carrying junior hockey players and coaches from the Humboldt Broncos had crashed in rural Saskatchewan. Many were dead, and more were injured.
For Cole McBride, a native of Saskatchewan and sophomore at Merrimack College, the news hit close to home.
McBride, a member of the Merrimack men’s hockey team, didn’t play many games in Humboldt. But, as a teenager, he took bus rides all over the province, and he knew a few players who were probably on that bus, including one of his best friends, Stephen Wack.
“I started sending (text) messages to Steve to see if he was okay,” said McBride. “It was tough. He didn’t get back to me. I tried getting ahold of others, but it was tough getting any news.”
On Sunday morning, McBride got word that his pal was among the 15 players, coaches and others who’d died when their bus was hit by a tractor trailer.
McBride and Wack had played together on the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
“We just hit if off right from the start,” said McBride. “He was very funny. He was very smart. He wasn’t just about hockey, either. He had his own YouTube channel, which got thousands of hits. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Throughout a childhood playing hockey, McBride, spent a lot of time playing games in Humboldt, which is three hours from his native Kindersley.
He played two games for the Kindersley Klippers, which is in the same junior hockey league as the Broncos. In fact, both of those games were in Humboldt.
Playing there always was a memorable experience, he said.
“Humboldt is a typical town in Saskatchewan, with about 5,000 to 6,000 people,” said McBride. “It’s a farming town. The rink was beautiful.
“Humboldt (Broncos) were a high-end team in Saskatchewan. The fans always came out to their games,” he said. “They love the Broncos.”
McBride has spent the last three summers in Saskatoon, the city of a quarter-million people about an hour from Humboldt, so he knows the area well.
When he first heard about the accident, he figured that weather was a factor. But upon learning that it happened about 5 p.m. local time, and the roads were dry, he was baffled.
The accident is still being investigated.
“How does that happen?” he said. “It’s hard to figure out. We get a lot of snowstorms and bad weather, but that apparently wasn’t the case. It’s just devastating thinking about it.”
McBride has been struck by the support and prayers for the players, their families and the city of Humboldt following tragedy.
In fact, on Thursday, hockey players, fans and others all over North America are planning to wear their hockey sweaters or jerseys in a show of support.
McBride is part of group that will have a table set up at Merrimack’s student union from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday to collect money for families of the Humboldt players and coaches. He’ll be wearing his Merrimack game sweater.
“This is going to take some time to get over,” he said. “Steve was a great friend. I have some great memories with him. I’ll never forget him.”
Ridgewell Knows Those Roads
Samantha Ridgewell knows Saskatchewan, and she knows the long bus rides to hockey games.
A native of Outlook, south of Saskatoon, the Merrimack College junior did a lot of traveling in her youth hockey days and as a teenager.
She never played in Humboldt.
“But I know the roads that go there,” she said. “Hockey is very important in our province. I played for a team where everyone lived within an hour radius. We made so many new friends because of hockey.”
Ridgewell also has a connection to the crash that took the lives of 10 members of the Humboldt Broncos junior team, as well as five coaches and adults. Her sister’s boyfriend, a hockey player, knew players on the team.
“This isn’t something that is supposed to happen,” said Ridgewell. “The fact my sister’s boyfriend played with a couple of guys on the team brought it closer to home. It’s a tragedy.”
Ridgewell said she doesn’t like thinking about what happened.
“I’ve been on so many buses, even here at Merrimack,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do if I was a family member. I just pray for these families.”
Bill Burt is executive sports editor of The Eagle-Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com