“I thought I was going to be sick.”
Donna Mikkola was at the Steinbach Pistons game Friday night, but the long-time hockey billet was keeping an eye on her phone.
She gets alerts from the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, and likes to keep tabs on the players who have stayed in her home during their time with the local Manitoba Junior hockey team, including Matthieu Gomercic.
Gomercic played for the Steinbach Pistons from 2014-2016, staying with the Mikkola family, and was taking part in his final year of junior hockey with the Broncos.
Mikkola thought it was strange that she wasn’t getting any notifications from the Broncos on score updates or goals.
It wasn’t until Mikkola left the rink to have coffee and a bite that she got a phone call from her daughter with the news.
The Humboldt Broncos’ bus had been involved in a deadly crash.
“Devastation. I thought I was going to be sick. It’s hard to explain. The feeling was just unbelievable,” she said.
Shortly after, news came that Gomercic had survived the crash. Mikkola said she felt relieved, then guilty.
“(Relief) because I was so happy to hear, but then guilt because of the rest of the players that didn’t make it,” she said. “I texted his mom last night. She had just said that it was so amazing that he had survived. He does have injuries, but we don’t know the extent of them yet.”
Mikkola said over the two years Gomercic stayed in their home, he became like family.
“He is just so sweet. He is a very caring, super wonderful person. He’s a little bit shy, but willing to do anything for anybody. He’s got a beautiful soul,” she said.
Pistons coach Paul Dyck also coached Gomercic from 2014-16 and was close with Broncos coach Darcy Haugan, who died in the crash.
“It feels like family. I mean, personally, I was friends with their coach, and I know Darcy did not survive,” Dyck said.
“It’s just hard to put into words how everybody feels. It does bring everybody together. I can think of better ways to bring everybody together. Just a horrible situation.”
Dyck has not yet reached out to Gomercic himself as he recovers in Saskatchewan, and it’s unclear the extent of Gomercic’s injuries, but Dyck shared a sentiment being felt across the country.
“The hockey world is pretty tightly knit. Whether you knew somebody on that team or not, I think everybody’s been impacted by this.”
Daniel McKitrick, who plays for the Steinbach Pistons, spent parts of two seasons with Humboldt.
He found out about the crash Friday evening after his team’s loss to Virden in Game 1 of the MJHL finals. His coach told the team, through tears.
“Right when he said Humboldt Broncos bus crash, I immediately thought of my friends, my coaches,” McKitrick said. “If I didn’t get traded I could’ve been there too with my brothers there, and it’s just really tough to handle.”
McKitrick said he knew Haugan and four of the players who did not survive the crash.
“I remember moving away to go play junior, I was a bit nervous, moving away from home and going to a new place. They were extremely, extremely welcoming. It was a surreal experience,” he said. “Darcy, too, was super welcoming. He was a great person. Logan Schatz, the captain there, can’t say enough good things about him. He’s just a great person and a great hockey player, too.”