Former Prince Albert Raiders forward Scott Hartnell remembers exactly where he was when news broke of the tragic accident involving the Humboldt Broncos team bus on April 6.
“I was sitting on the couch and I was like everyone else trying to refresh Twitter to find out what had happened,” Hartnell said. “When I learned how bad it was, my stomach just sank.
“The tears started coming and every emotion just hit me. The trip on the bus is something that we as hockey players are used to and you just wonder how something so terrible could happen. It was an awful day.”
Like everyone else in the hockey world, Hartnell wanted to try and give back to Humboldt as the community dealt with the loss of 16 people that were associated with their Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League club.
As such, when Saskatoon’s Chandler Stephenson announced that he would bringing the Stanley Cup to the city after winning it with the Washington Capitals in June, Hartnell was eager to join in.
“Driving up here and seeing the fans lined up all the way around the rink was incredible,” Hartnell said. “It’s a big day for the community and hopefully it helps people out in some way as they start to move forward.”
“I think the goal for the day is just to give Humboldt a chance to come together and hopefully seeing the Stanley Cup puts some smiles on their faces,” Stephenson added. “Obviously it hits close to home for all of us and this is so much bigger than the game with how many people this has touched.”
An estimated crowd of 3,000 made their way through the Elgar Petersen Arena Friday to meet Stephenson and see hockey’s biggest prize, with more people getting the chance to play ball hockey and get autographs from current and former NHL players as part of Humboldt Hockey Day.
“I have to give huge kudos to Chandler for bringing the Cup here as this has been a special day to be a part of,” Anaheim Ducks blueliner and Prince Albert product Josh Manson said. “When they e-mailed me to see if I wanted to come to Humboldt, I made sure to plan my off-season schedule around today so I could be here.
“It’s really a kickstart to everything here in the community. They’ve done such a great job in a very tough rebuilding process and I think this will give everyone an extra boost with hockey season starting in a few weeks.”
Prior to welcoming the public into the building, a private ceremony was held as Stephenson brought the Stanley Cup into a room that had members of the Broncos team that survived the accident along with friends and family members of those that lost their lives.
“It was pretty tough seeing the parents and the billets obviously as they’ve gone through so much,” Stephenson said. “Obviously there’s nothing we can do to replace those that are no longer with us, but we’re trying to help them out as much as we can to make them feel good on a day like this.”
“I think the best way to describe it was that it was a healing room for everyone,” added York Lions freshman forward Kaleb Dahlgren, who was injured in the accident. “It’s been a special day though. When Chandler won the Cup the first thing he texted me was ‘Your coming to Humboldt with me,’ so to see everyone here from the NHL is just incredible and I know everyone involved with the team appreciates it.”
Friday also marked the return of on-ice activities for the Broncos, as the team began their training camp this afternoon.
“It’s definitely an emotional day but it’s exciting to get things started,” Broncos head coach and general manager Nathan Oystrick said. “It’s been a long summer but we’re looking forward to seeing how this weekend goes.
“Obviously this is a situation that you can’t prepare for, but I’ve gotten some great advice from (Colorado Avalanche head coach) Jared Bednar, (Dallas Stars assistant coach) Todd Nelson and the Stars’ head coach Jim Montgomery. They’ve all been a tremendous help to me as we begin this journey.”