Inside the Nest: Hockey helps heal

Growing up in Illinois, I remember going out into the snow-covered driveway and street in the dead of winter with friends and smacking around a puck or ball thinking I was Wayne Gretzky.

I remember going to the YMCA and playing hockey with friends for hours on end, playing for so long my dad one time had to make me leave.  I’ve always loved hockey.

But this column isn’t about me.

On April 26, tragedy struck the hockey community and by extension, the sports community.

A tractor-trailer collided with the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in Canada.

The Broncos were on their way to a playoff game in Nipawin, Saskatchewan, Canada, when the collision occurred. 16 people died as a result of the crash, and 13 suffered injuries.

To those associated with the game, whether you’re a fan, a player or both, and whether you’re  in the U.S. or Canada, hockey is seen as a sport with sacred traditions. 

What’s even more special than the pageantry and tradition involving the game, is the bond the hockey community and the players share, both on and off the ice.

Hockey players, even opposing ones, see each other as brothers.

It’s a strange type of brotherhood, one that’s forged during long road trips to tournaments, through shared joy and sadness, both on the ice and off.

In the aftermath of the crash, teams and players of the National Hockey League and the hockey community paid tribute to the Humboldt Broncos, both the victims and the survivors.

The NHL’s Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks played their final game of the regular season with “Broncos” on their respective jerseys nameplate instead of last names. 

There was a moment of silence and the teams stood together in a circle at center ice during the national anthems.

In Nashville, prior to a game between the Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Canadian national anthem played despite neither team being based in Canada.

Around the hockey community, arenas called for moments of silence.  Others applied helmet decals depicting the Humboldt logo.

Support didn’t just come in the form of ceremony and tribute, however.

Sylvie Kellington, a Humboldt resident and native, started a GoFundMe page for donations to  the team and families of those affected.  Currently, the page sits at $11.5 million, the largest GoFundMe in Canadian history and one of the highest grossing pages in GoFindMe’s history.

The most touching tribute didn’t come from a professional sports team, or a single team at all. 

Everyday people and hockey fans pulled together and left personal tributes in the form of green-tape clad hockey sticks left out on their porches by their front doors.

Pictures that were posted on social media used the hashtag #SticksOutForHumboldt. The sticks left out overnight served as a tribute to those who passed away.

What happened in Saskatchewan serves as a reminder, that among the myriad of good sports can do, sports serve as something that brings people together in the worst of times.  A bond that helps an entire community heal in times of tragedy and loss.

More than that, what happened in Saskatachewan and the reaction to it around North America reminds us that despite what may happen in a hockey game, series or season, we all play for one, united team.