Five months after their bus crashed into a tractor-trailer and killed 16 team members of the Humboldt Broncos, two of the survivors returned to the ice.
Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter suited up on Wednesday night for the season opener of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, according to the Saskatoon Star Phoenix. The Broncos played the Nipawin Hawks in the first game of the season but fell short to their competitors, losing 2-1.
“It’s exciting,” Camrud said to the local publication prior to the game’s start. “At the same time, it’s scary, it’s overwhelming, it’s going to be sad — we’re paying tribute to the boys.”
A day ahead of the season opener, TSN released an original 12-minute film where they spoke to Camrud and Patter about the unimaginable tragedy and their return to hockey alongside many new team members.
“I’m just going to play for the guys that can’t play hockey anymore,” Patter told TSN. “To represent those 29 families, 29 people that were on that bus.”
Camrud and Patter were onboard the 28-passenger bus in April when it collided with a tractor-trailer in western Canada’s Saskatchewan province. The team, made up of athletes aged 16 to 20, was on its way to a playoff game in the town of Nipawin — the same town that the Broncos opened their 2018 season against.
Of the 29 people who were on the bus at the time of the crash, including team members, coaches, support staff, and the bus driver, 16 people were killed — 10 of them being players — while 13 others were injured. Camrud and Patter are the only two players to survive the crash and return to the sport.
“I thought it was important to the community of Humboldt that I don’t bail on them,” Camrud told TSN.
Prior to Wednesday’s game, community members showed their support to the Broncos by leaving hockey sticks outside of their front doors. Many shared photos on social media, paying tribute to the team with #HumboldtStrong and acknowledged how the community will “never forget” the unimaginable tragedy.
Ahead of the 6:45 p.m. start, a press conference reportedly occurred with players and their family members who spoke out about the accident. Former player and crash survivor Kaleb Dahlgren told reporters, “I think it means, honestly, everything for this team to be playing hockey again.”
As the sold-out crowd began to roll in, members of the original team gathered for an emotional moment prior to puck-drop. Though Camrud and Patter were the only two players suited up, their other surviving teammates — one of who is currently in a wheelchair — made an appearance and lined up next to each other on the ice during the National Anthem.
Outside the rink, Humboldt’s Spotlight business sold T-shirts, where already more than 15,000 of them were purchased following the bus crash in April. Of those proceeds, $300,000 have gone directly towards the Humboldt Strong Community Foundation, the Saskatoon Star Phoenix reports.
Following the game, a Banner Tribute ceremony took place, honoring those who died in the crash. Each banner that was revealed featured the name of the fallen player, as well as their number. During the ceremony, the 150 plus first responders who were on the scene of the crash were also honored.
Though the team reportedly had no captain for this year’s season (as a way to pay respect to the late Logan Schatz who held that position last season, but didn’t get to complete it) the returners are embracing their leadership role while also remembering their fallen teammates.
“I think about a little bit of it every single day, whether it be the accident itself, or how guys are doing, how my parents might be feeling,” Camrud told the Saskatoon Star Phoenix. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to make sure everybody’s doing well. You’ve got to check in, and be a great human.”
Added the 20-year-old athlete: “This year, my responsibility is to be a leader for these new guys we brought into our team, and I’m going to be the best guy I can.”