In taking on the difficult challenge of providing updates on the SJHL’s response to the horrific and heartbreaking tragedy that has befallen the Humboldt Broncos, league president Jim Chow shared a very poignant observation about the importance of the game of hockey.
On Monday, as he explained why so many dedicated volunteers have put in countless unpaid hours to keep the league operational, Chow noted that “hockey is a part of our life. You go to the rink because it’s part of the community. … You go to the rink to talk to people and to socialize. That’s what hockey means to Saskatchewan.”
Not just Saskatchewan, obviously, but all of Canada. It’s why this tragedy has so deeply resonated with Canadians. Most of us didn’t know the young men who suited up for the Humboldt Broncos, but we feel as though we do. We see them at rinks all over the country. We see our children fall in love with the game and start to dream of reaching the level of the game that those victims had achieved.
In so many ways, they are Canada’s sons (and, of course, Canada’s daughter).
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As Canadians, we have a profound bond with the game of hockey. It’s not an exaggeration to say, as the board of the Humboldt Broncos did this week, that “the power of healing is in the game.”
That statement was in reaction to the difficult decision the league made this week — a unanimous decision, mind you, including the Broncos — to allow the league finals to go ahead between the Estevan Bruins and the Nipawin Hawks. It’s the right decision.
To some, the decision may seem crass, that perhaps there are more important things to worry about right now than whether the SJHL will crown a champion. And undoubtedly, this has been a very emotional and difficult week for the young men who play for the Bruins and Hawks. But the game gives them a distraction. The game re-establishes their bonds with their peers. The game brings the community together.
It certainly doesn’t diminish the tragedy or cause us to lose sight of what happened or forget about those affected. Quite the opposite, in fact. The SJHL finals, and the subsequent regional and national Junior A championships, provide an opportunity to honour and pay tribute to the victims. It provides an opportunity for the Saskatchewan hockey community — and Canada’s hockey community — to come together and lean on one another through this difficult time.
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It’s already happening across the country as communities come together to do whatever they can to help those affected by the tragedy and to find solace in one another.
As it happens, I was in an arena last Sunday morning — less than 48 hours after the crash — watching my son and a bunch of other 12-year-olds play the game they love. Obviously, the tragedy was front and centre on everyone’s mind, but it also provided a sense of comfort to be in the familiar confines of the hockey rink and to be around our hockey family.
There were two occasions this past season when my son’s team organized a coach bus trip to travel to a pair of distant road games. He had never traveled on a bus for hockey, and was thrilled to do so. Putting on those game-day dress clothes, throwing your equipment in the undercarriage luggage compartment, and spending a few hours bonding with your friends and teammates is an experience they’ll never forget. It gives them a sense of pride and a sense of accomplishment to be living out the routine of their hockey heroes.
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But what was a dream come true for members of the Humboldt Broncos turned into a realization of every parent’s worst nightmare. Those hopes and fears are widely held, and it’s why so many Canadians can relate directly to those who are in mourning or those who are keeping a bedside vigil alongside their injured loved ones. It’s a tragedy that could have occurred anywhere in Canada.
The game, of course, can and should go on. Our love and passion for it is something we can cling to for strength and support as we try to navigate our way through these sad and dark days.
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