THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
The Humboldt Broncos lost, but the score didn’t matter.
The Broncos and Saskatchewan hockey fans took a big step towards healing as the junior hockey team played its first regular-season game since a team bus crash claimed 16 lives last April and injured 13 others.
The names and numbers of those involved in the bus crash were raised to the rafters as the team tried to emerge from the grips of tragedy.
Family members and fans cheered through tears as 29 yellow and green banners were unfurled honouring the 13 injured and remembering the 16 dead.
“We know that, while the darkness is much less, it will never truly leave us as it holds the love that we have left for those who are no longer with us and those who have been impacted by this tragedy,” said former Broncos president Kevin Garinger, who was the face of the team in the aftermath of the crash.
“But we will forever cherish their memories and honour their legacy and, as hard as it has been, we have and will continue to move forward with them and because of them.”
The game prompted an outpouring of support from the hockey community as the team returned to the ice.
Hayley Wickenheiser, a four-time Olympic gold medallist and career leading scorer for the Canadian women’s national hockey team, sent her best wishes to the Broncos ahead of the game on Twitter.
“Sending good luck and thinking of ?HumboldtBroncos playing their season opener tonight and remembering all of those lost or injured. Sure to be an emotional night but the heart always carries the feet. I’m putting my stick back outside for this one!” she tweeted.
Fellow team Canada alum and two-time Olympic champion Cassie Campbell-Pascall echoed her former teammate’s sentiments on social media.
“Sending a big good luck to HumboldtBroncos organization as they get set to play their first game of the season,” she tweeted.
Former Calgary Flame Sheldon Kennedy, who played three seasons of junior hockey for the Swift Current Broncos said he was thinking of those affected by the Humboldt crash, as well as the four players killed in his own team’s 1986 bus crash.
“My thoughts are with the families, first responders and communities impacted heading into tonight’s #HumboldtStrong game,” he tweeted.
“I also won’t ever forget our SCBroncos friends and teammates.”
Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames great Doug Gilmour also tweeted his support for the club.
“Tonight the Humboldt Broncos take the ice for their home opener. Going to be an emotional one. The hockey world is with you all. Good luck tonight boys!” he wrote.
Ryan Gobeil, whose younger brother, Morgan, suffered a significant brain injury in the crash posted a photo on Twitter with two hockey sticks.
“One right-handed stick for me. One left-handed stick for Morgan. Hockey was a big part of our relationship growing up. Good luck to the Humboldt Broncos this season. Go get ’em!” Gobeil wrote in the caption.
Carley Matechuk, the sister of Layne, who also suffered a brain injury in the collision wished the team luck during its upcoming season.
“Wish I was watching you play tonight… Goodluck to the 18/19 broncos. I hope that #Hockeyheals #Humboldtstrong,” she wrote.
Following Wednesday’s game, Los Angeles Kings forward Nate Thompson said he was left feeling hopeful.
“Absolutely beautiful home opener for the Humboldt Broncos. I feel privileged to be able to witness something so powerful and inspiring. Thank you,” he tweeted.
Wednesday’s emotional match also led prominent Canadians from outside the hockey world to reach out.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated Humboldt’s first game back.
“Welcome back, Broncos – Canadians across the country will be with you on every shift tonight,” he tweeted.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as well as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also both offered their support on social media.
“Canadians stand with you Humboldt Broncos. We’ll be cheering you on for your home opener tonight!” tweeted Scheer.
“Wishing the best of luck to the #HumboldtBroncos as they play their first regular season game tonight! Our hearts are with the team, the families and the community as we remember those we lost, and together, look ahead to an exciting season,” said Singh on Twitter.
The Broncos were headed to Nipawin, Sask., for a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game against the Hawks when their bus collided with a tractor trailer at a rural intersection on April 6. Sixteen people, including 10 players, died in the crash and 13 were injured.