As a junior hockey player, former NHLer Shelden Kennedy was on a bus ride from Swift Current to Regina when his team’s bus was involved in a crash that left four of his teammates dead.
When he heard news of the crash Friday night Highway 35 in Saskatchewan that killed 15 members of the Humboldt Broncos, Kennedy recalled that accident in 1986.
“My first reaction was just thinking of the families and everybody involved and the first responders and, you know, thinking back to the moment when we were involved in the crash – the state of shock and the eriness that surrounds an accident like that and how important it was that the community support one another.
“I remember the families trying to get information on whose kid it was. All they hear is fatalities. There’s this many fatalities. There’s that many fatalities.”
WATCH: “We are heartbroken and completely devastated,” Humboldt Broncos president says on tragic crash
Kennedy said that many people in the hockey world are supportive because they can relate to the accident, having ridden on buses while playing in the junior leagues.
“Many people have been on buses and vehicles travelling to and from games and its snowy weather,” he explained. “And I think it’s a time to reflect and think of all the time and miles they have put on.”
Edmonton Oilers star forward Connor McDavid recalls his time riding the “safe space” of the buses while playing in the Ontario Hockey League.
“Some of my fondest memories have come on the bus,” he explained. “You’re with all the boys and having a good time. For me, it never even came across my mind that something like that could happen when we’re on the bus.
“It’s like a haven. It’s like a safe space.”
WATCH: Maple Leafs with Saskatchewan roots react to Humboldt Broncos fatal bus crash
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak, a native of Regina, played three seasons in the BCHL with the Victoria Salsa. He said he lost sleep Friday night upon hearing news of the crash.
“All of us have spent a lot of time on buses and, obviously, just a tragedy,” Bozak said Saturday. “You can’t really put into words anything, it was hard to sleep last night. I can’t imagine what everyone is going through back in Saskatchewan.”
WATCH: Winnipeg Jets discuss Humboldt Broncos bus crash
Winnipeg Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey said he was sickened by the news.
“When I saw that come up on my phone, I just felt sick,” he said as he sent his thoughts to the families and community involved.
The former Price Albert Raider recalled his time on the roads of the province.
“You think about all the times and hours you spent on the bus yourself, not far from that area, so it’s devastating.
“We had a lot of long bus rides through storms and through the night. Just looking back I am so thankful that we were always able to be safe.”
WATCH: Maple Leafs’ Mike Babcock emotionally reacts to Humboldt Broncos crash
Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock grew up in Saskatoon and played minor league hockey for the Saskatoon Blades and Kelowna Wings in the early ‘80s.
On Saturday he spoke of the fears of having children play minor league or college sports.
“My buddy’s kid played there, I talked to him – he’s a fireman in Saskatoon – last night,” Babcock said. “As the calls were coming in, they were talking about all the kids they’ve coached and the years they were playing on that team.”
He added: “You send your kid away and I sent my kids to junior hockey or college hockey or college soccer and I always used to think about those vans when the coaches were driving to college soccer, I always thought those were a nightmare. This is supposed to be as safe as it gets, and it just goes to show you, you’ve got to embrace each and every day you’re with your family, you better enjoy it. “
Babcock recalled the spot on the road where the accident happened.
“I know that road pretty good, it doesn’t seem like a big spot, it’s not the mountains or anything, but accidents do happen.”
Oilers coach Todd McLellan is also a Saskatchewan native. He both played and coached with junior teams in the area.
“I’m from Saskatoon. I know Saskatchewan people well. I know that Humboldt area really well. They’re as strong as they come, but they’ll need our help.”
“I can’t imagine what those families are feeling and what they’re going through right now. It just won’t be today,” he said. “It lasts a while. They need our support. They’re going to need it as soon as now. It’s going to have to last for a while.”
A host of NHL players reacted on Twitter after hearing news of the crash:
*With files from Global News’ Reid Wilkins and