It’s always tough when tragedy hits close to home, but what happens when it hits directly at home. That has been one of the million thoughts that have passed through my mind since Friday night.
I had the pleasure of providing play by play for the Humboldt Broncos for about 15 games this season. I travelled with the team on the bus occasionally, including a trip to Nipawin. I’ve closed my eyes numerous times this past weekend and just thought about sitting in the bus with the team and looking around and seeing the faces that are no longer with us and others that were severely injured.
I spent 5 years in Estevan as the voice of the Bruins. One of the rookies in my rookie season was Mark Cross. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Mark was going to be a future leader of the Bruins, if he wasn’t already. Veterans like Kyle Garagan, Kyle Stroh, Riley Tetreault, Liam Brennan, Brody Haygarth, Brant Harris and others took Mark under their wing and groomed him to be the next leader of the Estevan Bruins.
I wish Mark and I spent more time talking about his teammates this year. But we did share a few memories of guys like Dylan Smith, Lucas Stubel , Troy Hunter , Josh Jelinski, Ty Ariss and others. The smile on his face when we talked about those guys said it all. He loved his teammates and every single teammate of Mark loved him back.
I spent a lot of time on the bus with Mark, three years in Estevan, and a few trips this year in Humboldt. In Mark’s rookie season he would sit right behind me, his 19 year old season he would move a little further back and in his final season, Mark would sit at the back of the bus in the “good seats” that would allow for some cards games. Then this season as a coach, Mark would sit in front of me. On my first bus trip this season with the Broncos, I spent a few minutes thinking how Mark went full circle (or whatever shape you want to call it) sitting on the bus.
On the ice, Mark was a solid two way center, he always contributed at both ends of the ice. The small dimensions of the Civic Auditorium suited Mark’s game perfectly. One on ice memory that we discussed a couple of months ago was the final goal at the Civic Auditorium, Mark remembered it even better than I did, as he should, it was his final point in Jr Hockey as he got the assist on Ryan Andersen’s goal. My favorite memory with the Bruins is always going to be the bonding that took place with the team after the final game in the Civic Auditorium. I’m not sure there are too many broadcasters who are lucky enough to take part in that special moment in Junior Hockey, but the memories from that night will make me smile for the rest of my life. If there has been anything that has helped me over the last few days is seeing all the pictures from Mark’s teammates and remembering the good times we all had in Estevan.
When I heard that Mark was hired as the assistant coach of the Broncos, I think there was no one in Humboldt who was more excited than me. One of the main reasons why I wanted to come back out of “retirement” and do some play by play for the Broncos was because Mark was with the team. I enjoyed our pregame talks before the games and our chats at the gym. There’s no doubt in my mind Mark was going to be a head coach if he wanted to. The Broncos had a quite a run in the second half of the season, after Christmas the only time the team lost back to back games was in March after the team had their playoff spot clinched. On the ice, the Broncos kept getting better and better and I think the biggest reason for that was the work of Mark, Darcy and Chris.
Mark’s parents were regulars at the Civic Auditorium and the Elgar Petersen Arena. They would come watch every game that Mark would play; sometimes they would be accompanied by Mark’s girlfriend Molly. They would travel from Strasbourg to not only Estevan, but to every single rink in the SJHL. I’m sure they can’t count on one hand, the amount of Mark’s games they missed. I remember one time at the end of my first season, Mark’s Dad came up to me and said “You know Blaine, I’m sure you’re an excellent announcer, but I’ve never heard you call a game. “ Most Junior Hockey parents have to rely on the radio to hear their kids play, but not Mark’s parents. I really enjoyed talking to them in Humboldt this season, especially smiling and waving to them from the press box at the EPA. My heart is bleeding is for Mark’s family right now, and they are in my thoughts.
One thing I’ve enjoyed over the last few days was reading the many articles from Mark’s family, and his teammates at York talk about how great of a guy he was, it just confirms what I already know.
Mark treated everyone with respect, he was kind, he was a leader to every team that he played and coached for. He always had a smile on his face and made sure he made everyone around him feel important. I’m so lucky to call him not only a “working colleague”, but a friend. One thing I’ve realized over the last few days, even though Mark was six years younger than me, I really looked up to him.
I spent the past three years as the match of Brody Hinz through the Big Brother & Little Brother program Most of time spent with Brody was watching and talking sports. Among his loves were Ron McLean and Don Cherry, he often talked about McLean’s stories on Hometown Hockey and Don Cherry memorial tributes on Coaches Corner. Besides Ron and Don, Brody loved the Winnipeg Jets, the San Francisco 49ers , Toronto Blue Jays, Saskatchewan Roughriders and of course the Humboldt Broncos.
Brody spent his time volunteering with Big Brothers, Soup Kitchen, his church, the HCI Mohawks Football team and other sport teams at the high school. I’m probably missing a few since volunteering was a passion for Brody. He started volunteering with the Broncos this season and was planning to continue working with the Broncos next year. He was looking into a career possibly in sports administration and he was taken from us, way too soon.
There’s no doubt I feel a strong connection with Tyler Bieber., We grew up in Humboldt, we loved sports and we both became broadcasters. Tyler’s true passion was volunteer coaching, there were a few times this season I had to fill in for him as Radio announcer so Tyler could coach basketball. Tyler has been a volunteer coach with the HCI Mohawks Football team for many years, but my first memory with him and the football team, was 15 years ago when Tyler was volunteering with the team as an equipment manager. My heart goes out to Tyler’s family.
My interactions with Darcy Haugen were limited, unfortunately it was only after Friday’s tragedy that I recall seeing Darcy’s pictures inside of the old Civic Auditorium in Estevan. I really only have one memory of Darcy. When I travelled with the Broncos to Nipawin a couple of months ago, Darcy brought one of his sons on the bus. As you can imagine, the little guy was beyond excited. I remember him asking Darcy a million questions, and I kept wondering if Darcy was going to get mad or lose his cool, but each and every time he looked at his son, and I just saw smiles and warm kindness. Darcy answered every single question and the tone of his voice was with loving care. Like many others, I find myself now thinking I wish I could’ve gotten to know Darcy better.
There was a sign in the area by our Tim Horton’s in December that said over 430 volunteer hours provided by the Humboldt Broncos team. Considering that was in December, I could only imagine what that total would be now. Volunteer work is what Junior A Hockey is all about. The community comes out and supports the team and the team comes out and support the community. I should say region, the Broncos not only volunteered in Humboldt, but they spent time in Watson, Cudworth, Bruno and so many of the small towns in our area. Humboldt lost a huge chunk of our heart and spirit on Friday.
While I always sat in front of the bus, I was always one of the last guys off. The players had to unload the all the equipment while I was lucky enough to head straight to my car and drive home. On my last bus trip with the Broncos, 20 year Connor Lukan stopped and offered me to go ahead of me. I respectfully declined, but even before Friday that small, kind gesture really meant a lot to me.
Heading into the first game of the playoffs against the Melfort Mustangs, the one player who I kept thinking about was Jaxon Joseph. Joseph was traded to the Broncos from Melfort in the middle of the season. He excelled after his trade to Humboldt, ending up with 28 goals. But no doubt, Joseph was highly motivated for Game 1 of the playoffs at the Northern Lights Palace. Joseph responded leading the Broncos with 2 goals and an assist in a 7-2 win over Melfort. Joseph ended the series with 6 goals. It’s always great to see when a motivated player like Joseph not only succeed but thrive in the moment. All I can remember from that night was hearing the boos from the Mustangs fans, but all I could see was the smile on Jaxon’s face.
Sometime over these next few days please take time to learn more about Kaleb Dalhgren and all the volunteer work he does. Along with Diabeauties program, Kaleb spent countless hours volunteering at the rink, playing floor hockey and helping out at the local schools. I’ve heard a lot stories from my friends who have kids, and they all have said that Kaleb is a really nice kid and how great he treated their own. Kaleb was very approachable, he would say Hi, how’s it going when you walk pass him, and he was always game for an interview. On a team full of special kids, Kaleb definitely stands out and I’m happy that he is still here with us.
There will never be a day in my life that I won’t forget about those there were taken from us. Like everyone else I’m keeping the other players and Dana in my thoughts and hope that they will all be able to go home some day.
When people ask how I’m doing, I’m grieving, but I’m not grieving alone. I’m grieving with family, friends, my community, my province and really the entire world.
This past weekend I had a lot of What Ifs in my mind, but now the question has to be changed from What If to What Can I do. And right now the only thing I can do is help share the stories of those we lost on Friday, April 6.