Separated by more than 1,100 miles, Kent, Washington, USA and Humboldt, Saskatchewan, Canada are communities closely connected by the love of junior hockey.
So when 16 people – including 10 Humboldt players ranging in age from 16 to 21 years – were killed when the Broncos charter bus collided with a semi-trailer truck on a Saskatchewan highway on April 6, it jolted the junior hockey world, Kent included.
Feeling the pain from afar, the Seattle Thunderbirds fan base wanted to do something more, in addition to contributing to a GoFundMe page devoted to helping the victims’ families. That drive so far has generated more than $11 million.
Staci Garrity, a longtime T-Birds fan and dental office receptionist from Federal Way, came up with the idea to capture encouraging words, prayers and signatures from well-wishers on a banner.
“It’s a show of support for the hockey family,” Garrity said. “I knew the GoFundMe page was already up and going, and this was the best thing I could think about that would bring our close community here together.”
On Saturday, Garrity, her father Bob Garrity and T-Bird fans unfurled the “Stay strong Humboldt … Love, Seattle T-Bird fans” banner on a table outside the accesso ShoWare Center for all to sign.
Tony Hettler, a broker for John L. Scott and a youth sports enthusiast, purchased the banner and sponsored the event.
Brandy Fisher, clad in a T-Bird jersey, is an office administrator for Hettler’s agency in Des Moines. She came out to greet fans and serve hot and cold drinks, doughnuts and snacks Saturday. To her and fellow fans, this gesture was important.
“I’m just heartbroken,” she said of the tragic accident, the reason for the gathering. “I don’t even have words.”
Bruce McDonald and his 15-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, are longtime season ticket holders who came out in the steady rain to write their heartfelt messages on the banner. Chloe, who is blind, accompanies her grandfather to games, attached to a headphone radio and its play-by-play call.
McDonald, who has been watching hockey in Seattle since 1955, remembers following Chris Joseph as a Thunderbird for two seasons (1985-86 and 1986-87) before the defenseman went on to play 14 years in the NHL for seven different teams.
Joseph’s son, Jaxon, 20, was killed in the Humboldt bus crash.
“In my mind we’re all family,” McDonald said. “The hockey family … it’s a very close-knit group. … We are very hurt by it.”
McDonald recalls hearing about another tragic road trip, a bus rollover on a Saskatchewan highway that killed four Swift Current players in 1986.
“Swift Current Broncos (then) and Humboldt Broncos (now),” McDonald said. “It’s weird.”
Junior hockey teams frequently travel long distances between games. The T-Birds are no exception, devoting one long, multiple-game stop to play the Western Hockey League’s far-reaching East Division clubs each season. The West road trip is shorter but demanding with regular wintertime trips to Spokane, Kennewick and hamlets in British Columbia.
The long bus ride is just the nature, a part of junior hockey.
Organizers for the banner hope to send it to the Humboldt organization once it’s filled with signatures. They hope the Broncos will consider displaying it in their arena in Saskatchewan.