Usually, it would be odd to hear a pre-game scrum where the coach didn’t talk about his team’s upcoming game for a single second. It would be odd to hear him say, when referring to his team’s final tune-up before playoffs that “the game will not take centre stage. It will be played, and that’s it.” On Saturday, though, it made perfect sense.
The Winnipeg Jets cast aside their usual game-day regimen in the wake of Friday’s horrific bus crash that claimed the lives of 15 members of the Humboldt Broncos, a Saskatchewan junior hockey team.
In Winnipeg, players from both teams and on-ice officials stood in unison at center ice during a moment of silence. The @NHLJets and @NHLBlackhawks wore “BRONCOS” name plates on their jerseys for the entire game. #PrayForHumboldt pic.twitter.com/2mT3LiEUYH
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 8, 2018
The way the Jets organization and their players reacted to the tragedy spoke volumes of their priorities. It illustrated that they know when to shift the focus from themselves to events that transcend wins and losses. Their dignified, sensitive approach showed solidarity with a community reeling from the unspeakably profound loss of so many of their children, brothers, and friends.
Jets Shifted Spotlight Away from Themselves
The mood around Bell MTS Place should have been jovial on Saturday afternoon. It was fan appreciation day. The team was gearing up for the final game of their best regular season since relocation. But it wasn’t jovial. It was sombre. The players and coaches didn’t talk about Saturday night’s matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks at all. Instead, they took the time to reflect on the crash and offer words of support.
“All this talk about how big hockey games are and how important the playoffs are and stuff,” Bryan Little said pre-game. “It definitely puts things into perspective. It makes you realize the stuff that’s important.”
“We’re all thinking about you guys and praying for you guys,” Adam Lowry said, referring to the surviving players and town of Humboldt. “This is something that’s going to be there for a long, long time, but the whole hockey world’s behind them.”
Paul Maurice was clearly emotional as he addressed the devastating incident, but spoke with eloquence and grace.
“The whole hockey comment mourns today,” he said. “Such a horrific situation that hits so very close to home for all of us. We spend our lives at that age riding buses to hockey games… our deepest thoughts and prayers to you. We’re grieving and we grieve with you.”
Organization Put Words into Actions and Got a Big Assist from the Blackhawks
The Jets’ organization didn’t just say the right things and use the hashtag #PrayersForHumboldt in their tweets. They show their solidarity and support for all those impacted by the fatal crash through tangible actions. They were boosted in this effort by the Blackhawks, who saw it important to do the same.
To symbolize unity and to demonstrate that hockey is a community, the Jets announced the players would wear “Broncos” on the backs of their jerseys rather than their last names — and the Blackhawks followed suit. This sent a powerful message that players play for what’s on the front of the jersey.
Before the game, there was a moment of silence to honour the deceased. Inside Bell MTS Place, over 15,000 stood heads down, stone-faced, and solemnly silent. Players from both teams did the same. Intermingling in a circle at centre ice, the Jets and Blackhawks broke tradition and became one team — wearing jerseys of different colours but one name emblazoned across their backs. For a few moments, they became the Broncos.
Tonight we play for the name on our back.
— Winnipeg Jets (@NHLJets) April 7, 2018
True North also opted to donate the 50/50 winnings directly to the Humboldt Broncos and the community of just under 6,000. Both teams matched the NHL’s $25,000 donation to sweeten the pot. By the end of the game where the score seemed trivial (the Jets won 4-1), the draw’s total sales were nearly $300,000.
Healing Begins in Humboldt
On Sunday, hundreds of mourners packed Elgin Petersen Arena for a vigil honouring the 15 men whose lives were tragically cut short on the way to do something they loved. Team pastor Sean Brandow addressed the crowd, stating “Can we heal? Yes. Will the scars be there? Yes.”
Healing and grieving can and will take a long time in the small Saskatchewan town. There will be tears, sadness, anger, and bartering. Many will struggle to come to grips or understand why it was their sons, brothers, friends, team that had to die. Some may never come to terms with it. The community and survivors will feel the profound loss forever.
But with the support of the hockey community and organizations like the Jets, the Blackhawks, and the NHL holding them up, they can heal.
Declan Schroeder is a 27-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.