Hockey bus crash survivor reflects on Humboldt

Kyle Johnson.
Kyle Johnson. Eric Beck/ Global News

The Humboldt Broncos tragedy has brought back fuzzy memories Kyle Johnson would rather forget.

“We both shot up. I think we almost hit the roof. After that, I don’t remember a whole lot,” he said.

It’s been 15 months since a bus carrying his team, the SPHL’s Columbus Cottonmouths, rolled off an exit ramp en route to a game in Peoria, Ill.

READ MORE: Humboldt Broncos bus crash victim Evan Thomas remembered at SaskTel Centre

“It was mayhem,” Johnson recalled. “A sleeper bus has bunks all the way up the wall, so they had all come off and the lounge had fallen apart. The bathroom was destroyed. You couldn’t tell it was a bus.”

The exterior of the Columbus Cottonmouth’s bus
The exterior of the Columbus Cottonmouth’s bus Ben O'Quinn

Johnson sustained a career-ending neck injury and concussion.

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He says the worst part was seeing goaltender Brandon Jaeger pulled from the rubble and taken to hospital for surgery, along with the team’s equipment manager.

Luckily, no one was killed.

FULL COVERAGE: Humboldt Broncos Bus Crash

What followed was a mad scramble to cope with the incident, and put a team on the ice only days later.

Players were flown in from across North America to round out the depleted Cottonmouths roster, including Estevan native Austin Daae.

“Usually if you get traded or go to a different team you’re excited to go earn a spot and play hard,” Daae said. “When you go play in a situation like that, you’re playing for that organization and those guys.”

The Cottonmouths’ first game after the accident
The Cottonmouths’ first game after the accident Kyle Johnson

“I don’t think there was too much that had to be said from anyone else. Everyone was ready to play for all their brothers and teammates.”

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Those memories have weighed heavily in the days since the crash that claimed 16 lives near Nipawin.

But the game has gone on.

SJHL playoffs have resumed, and the Broncos will return to action next season.

READ MORE: Estevan Bruins stop to pay respects at Humboldt Broncos bus crash site

In the meantime, Johnson and Daae have a message for the young men who will don a Humboldt jersey in the coming months.

“Embrace it,” Daae emphasized. “Be excited to be a part of it and play for the guys who were lost in the accident and the guys who are still able to play.”

“If you get a chance to put that jersey on again, make the most of it,” Johnson added. “I’m sure they’re going to give it everything they have. They’re definitely playing for something and everyone is going to recognize that.”

“I just want them to know Canada is behind them.”