Kind words and fond memories were shared at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Tuesday afternoon as family, friends and members of the public gathered for a celebration of life for four local hockey players killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash earlier this month.
The celebration of life paid tribute to Jaxon Joseph, Logan Hunter, Parker Tobin and Stephen Wack. All four boys had ties to the Edmonton area, having played in the area before joining the Broncos.
On April 6, the Humboldt Broncos team bus collided with a semi-truck while en route to an SJHL playoff game. Sixteen people were killed as a result of the crash. As of Tuesday afternoon, nine people remained in hospital; two in critical condition.
Joseph, the 20-year-old son of former Edmonton Oilers defenceman Chris Joseph, was from Edmonton. He was among the leading scorers in the SJHL playoffs.
Wack, from St. Albert, previously played in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. The 21-year-old had been with the Broncos for the past two seasons.
Hunter, also from St. Albert, played for the St. Albert Raiders for several seasons before joining the Broncos.
Tobin, an 18-year-old from Stony Plain, was the Broncos’ goalie. He used to play for the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Spruce Grove Saints.
READ MORE: St. Albert creates committee, plans tribute for Humboldt players connected to city
Tuesday’s service started with an address from Humboldt Broncos team president Kevin Garinger. He was emotional as he said the day was meant to celebrate the lives of four amazing young men who made an impact on their teammates, coaches and communities.
He said the young men have been “the rays of light that make our darkness bearable.”
“We have been searching in all that we have to understand the question of: ‘Why?’ As dark as our world has been, we have been incredibly blessed by a nation and a world that has wrapped our arms around our Broncos family,” he said.
“The world has responded with so much. We know that this love, this care and this compassion is truly Jaxon and Parker and Logan and Stephen reaching out to all of us.
“It is them who continue to live in our hearts and our minds and makes our world a much kinder place than it has ever been. To them we say, ‘We hear you and we feel your love.'”
Country music singer Paul Brandt then took the stage to perform his revamped version of Small Towns and Big Dreams, which he rewrote in the wake of the tragedy.
Watch below: A piece of Paul Brandt’s performance of ‘Small Towns and Big Dreams’
The ceremony was broken into four services; one for each of the young men. Representatives from each of their families spoke at the service, and emotional video tributes played in their memory.
Jaxon Joseph’s godfather and uncle Bryan Radmanovich remembered his nephew as a kind, caring, respectful young man who was a great brother. He shared several stories of when Joseph was younger, and how he loved spending time with his family.
He also spoke of Joseph’s love for the game, but more importantly, his love for everything that came with it.
“Jaxon’s favourite place was the dressing room. The dressing room is where lifelong friendships form, strangers become friends and friends become brothers and sisters in the hockey world.”
He said that last Thursday, on national jersey day, he was honoured to be asked to wear his nephew’s jersey. He said he accepted with great pride, but before posting a picture on social media, he knew he had to run it past one person first.
“I decided on the hashtag #hugsforhumboldt. But before I sent it out I had to run it by one very special person. I sent Jaxon a text that simply read: #hugsforhumboldt. Love, Uncle Bry. It showed delivered on my iPhone so I knew Jaxon received my text up in heaven and he approved.
“In the memory of Jaxon Joseph, make this world a better place. Make our world the dressing room of life. #hugsforhumboldt. Miss you, Jax. Love you kid.”
Watch below: Jaxon Joseph’s godfather Bryan “Uncle Bry” Radmanovich asks people to honour Jaxon’s memory with a heartfelt hug
Joseph’s parents, Chris and Andrea, spoke about how proud they are of their son and how hard the past week has been. They said one of their son’s favourite things was hanging out with his teammates.
They also spoke about their son’s first love, a girl named Quinn. Chris Joseph said his son was able to tell Quinn he loved her two days before the crash.
“We’re so happy that Jaxon got to say those words to such a wonderful girl. As we get to know her more and more we know exactly why he fell in love. So thank you Quinn, for making our son so happy. She even got him to clean his room and make his bed, which is a real feat in itself,” Chris Joseph said with a laugh.
Watch below: Jaxon Joseph’s sister Taylor reads a heartwarming speech to her big brother
Logan Hunter’s father, Lawrence Hunter, said he is living his worst nightmare — having to bury a child. He said bringing Logan into the world was one of his biggest joys.
“Not one day went by growing up that we as parents were not proud of this special boy.”
He described his son as someone who loved to give hugs and could sense when someone was in need of a tight squeeze.
“The power this has is so amazing. He did this with friends, he did it with families and I’ve seen him share hugs with people he never knew. His love was endless.”
Lawrence Hunter said he’s been through a whirlwind of emotions over the past several days: anger, grief, sorrow, but ultimately love.
“I do know one word that has brought me some inner peace. That word is love. I know our son Logan swelled with love. Love of family, love of friends, love of animals and love of sport,” Lawrence Hunter said.
“With the love of our families, friends and love being shared all over the world, this tragedy will find some peace as we share love with each other.”
Watch below: Logan Hunter’s father Lawrence Hunter reads touching eulogy to his son, in which he talks about his son’s favourite song: Country Road
Three of Hunter’s friends also spoke. Marcus Walter said he was proud to know Hunter the hockey player, and Hunter the man. Walter described his friend as funny and charismatic, always with a smile on his face.
“You impacted so many people in a positive way just by being in the same room as you,” Walter said. “If you asked anyone about Logan they would tell you there was never a dull moment when he was around.
“Until we meet again, thank you for all you brought to my life.”
Barb Potter, a family friend of Parker Tobin, said the young man was wonderful, athletic, funny and intelligent. She talked about Tobin’s “sensible demeanor” that was sprinkled with his dry sense of humour.
“Not only was he a loving son and brother, he was a kind and giving friend; someone who was always a pleasure to be around,” she said.
Potter talked of Tobin’s love for hockey, especially his passion of playing between the pipes.
“We are all part of Parker’s team and like the goalie bond, we have a team bond and we want everyone to remember Parker’s team and remember the fun times, the big beautiful smile, the great sense of humour, his dedication and drive,” Potter said.
“Parker, thank you for allowing each of us to be a part of your team.”
Watch below: Barb Potter, family friend of Parker Tobin, reminds everyone they are part of Parker’s team and to remember the big beautiful smile and sense of humour Parker had
Brandon Ewanchyshyn is one of Tobin’s many best friends. The boys met at the rink when they were just “little guys,” Ewanchyshyn said.
“We played the sports that we loved together for many, many years. We were goalie partners for five years.”
Ewanchyshyn said their friendly rivalry pushed them both to be the best players they could be. He spoke of the positive impact Tobin had on his life, and that his big smile and “famous one-line chirps” will never be forgotten.
“When something as devastating and sudden as this happens, you aren’t given the chance to say goodbye. You never think the last time will be the last time. You think you will have many more opportunities to make more memories and share many more laughs together.
“If I were to get the chance to say goodbye I would say: ‘Parker, I am so grateful to have had the chance to be so close with you. You are an amazing teammate and an even better friend.’
“I will grieve for the foreseeable future but eventually I will move on positively just like you would have wanted.
“I love you forever, Parker. And may we forever and always be Humboldt Strong.'”
READ MORE: Humboldt Broncos’ Parker Tobin remembered at celebration of life west of Edmonton
Peter Gill, a family friend who has known Stephen Wack for 14 years, described a young man who was quick-witted and bright. Gill called Wack and his younger brother, Justin, the little brothers he never had.
“He was always compassionate and dedicated to his younger brother,” Gill said of Wack. “It was Stephen’s calm resolve and gentle nature, combined with Justin’s unique charisma and the amazing parenting of Tricia and Alan, that enabled a strong bond to be developed between the two boys.”
Gill spoke of Wack’s passion for hockey, but also touched on his eye for videography and ability to turn life’s everyday scenes into something truly special.
“He helped to remind us that life is filled with seemingly mundane day-to-day events. Yet, these make up most of our life and they should be cherished,” Gill said. “He took time to appreciate everyday miracles.”
Watch below: President of the Humboldt Broncos, Kevin Garinger, speaks to reporter Kim Smith following the celebration of life for four local hockey players at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Tuesday.
Justin Wack, Stephen’s younger brother, said he was the best brother he could have ever asked for. Justin said his brother had an infectious personality, and was someone you always wanted in your corner.
Justin said his brother led by example, teaching him the importance of a strong work ethic, but added there was the odd time he would lose his temper.
Justin likened the tragedy to a slap shot in the face, but added his brother would want everyone to continue living their lives.
“Life has just given us one big slap shot and it’s been a real stinger. Sure, we may be out for a few games, we may be in pain and crying and we may think that things will never be the same, but we’ll think things through, work hard to get better and get to a better place and respond to the best of our collective ability,” Justin said.
“We will overcome the adversity that this tragedy has caused and come back stronger than we were ever before. That is how Stephen lived his life and as his younger brother, I can confidently say that that is what Stephen would want his legacy to be.”
READ MORE: Brother of Stephen Wack remembers him as selfless, humble
Humboldt Broncos team pastor Sean Brandow ended the ceremony by bringing the siblings of players up on stage. Collectively, the brothers and sisters said thank you to the first responders, medical staff and entire community for their support in the days following the tragedy.
Watch below: Fourteen of those killed in the Humboldt bus crash have now been laid to rest. Tuesday, the four players from the Edmonton-area were celebrated at a huge memorial. Quinn Ohler and Kim Smith have more.