Mat Barrett, the announcer for the Nipawin Hawks and Melfort Mustangs of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, was among the hundreds who turned out for Bieber’s funeral in Humboldt on Thursday.
The parking lot at the Elgar Petersen Arena was entirely full with vehicles of people coming to pay their respects.
As scheduled, Barrett arrived at the Nipawin arena on April 6 – the Broncos never did.
“I kind of felt something was wrong. Something didn’t feel right. The bus wasn’t there yet. The Broncos weren’t there,” Barrett said.
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He soon learned the Humboldt squad was involved in a horrific crash that killed 16 people and injured 13 others.
His friend, the 29-year-old first-year announcer from Humboldt, was among the dead.
“We may all be competitors and we might all be trying to get the same story, but we’re all kind of a brotherhood and a family,” Barrett said.
Two days earlier, working for two different stations, Barrett and Bieber delivered play-by-play for a game four playoff match between the Hawks and Broncos.
Neither had a colour commentator and the game went to triple overtime.
“Just knowing that was his last call and that was probably his best call, kind of hits with me,” Barrett said.
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The Hawks’ announcer will remember Bieber for his on-air presence, hockey knowledge and sense of humour.
Working for 107.5 Bolt FM in Humboldt led Bieber to meet Lorrie Bunko, executive director of the Humboldt District Hospital Foundation.
Their friendship developed through the station’s radiothon for the foundation, but also because Bieber coached Bunko’s daughter.
As a coach in basketball, football and flag football, Bunko said Bieber made sure every athlete had the chance to play.
The Elgar Petersen Arena will again serve as a funeral venue on Friday and Saturday, as more passengers from the Broncos bus are laid to rest.
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Keegan Adair, 14, was one of the honorary pallbearers and was wearing the jersey of the Humboldt high school football team over his suit.
He told the Canadian Press the loss of “Coach Bieber” has hurt him and his teammates, but they will focus on happier memories.
“He gave us a pep talk before one game and I had come off the field and my glasses were sideways in my helmet. He found it pretty funny and I just remember afterward him telling me how proud he was of how hard I played,” Adair said.
*with files from the Canadian Press