The Humboldt Broncos organization held a post-game tribute and memorial banner ceremony to honour the 29 people involved in the tragic bus crash on April 6.
It was a step towards healing for the Humboldt community and everyone affected on Wednesday night.
Former Humboldt Bronco president Kevin Garinger, who was the face of the team in the aftermath of the crash, said they will forever remember the victims.
“We know that, while the darkness is much less, it will never truly leave us as it holds the love that we have left for those who are no longer with us and those who have been impacted by this tragedy,” Garinger said.
“But we will forever cherish their memories and honour their legacy and, as hard as it has been, we have and will continue to move forward with them and because of them.”
The unveiling was held, along with a video tribute, for 29 banners with the names of the victims on the Broncos’ bus.
Six emergency service personnel were at the ceremony as the organization thanked over 150 first responders who came to the team’s aid five months ago.
Scott Thomas, the father of the late Bronco Evan Thomas, spoke on behalf of the victims’ families.
“Hockey is where we live, where we can best meet and overcome pain and wrong and death. Life is just a place we spend between games,” Thomas said in quoting Fred Shero.
“From that I maintain hockey is indeed family,” Thomas said, “and we have a new family of 29 now.”
“We’re going to be family for the rest or our time on this earth.”
WATCH BELOW: It was emotional but we battled through it: Humboldt Broncos coach
It was an emotional night at Elgar Petersen Arena as the Broncos played their first game of the 2018-19 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) regular season.
The evening began with eight of the surviving players who aren’t with the team anymore dropping the puck in the ceremonial faceoff with the only returning Broncos’ players from the previous season, Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter.
Kaleb Dahlgren, who now plays university hockey in Ontario, said it was important to be there.
“I think it is a step in the healing process,” he said. “Tonight definitely helps heal the wounds but it won’t for sure heal everything. There is still lots that needs to be done.”
WATCH BELOW: Coverage of the Humboldt Broncos first regular season game, five months after the tragic bus crash
Dahlgren’s father, Mark, was struck by the tribute photos outside the arena as he and his son pulled up.
“I just saw all the pictures of the people that passed on the bus and I just looked over at him and said: ‘Sure glad your picture’s not up there,”’ he said. “We’re the lucky ones and we don’t take it for granted. Every day we are appreciative to have him with us.”
The game was difficult for at least one of the players who suffered lifelong injuries in the crash.
Former Broncos player Ryan Straschnitzki, who was paralyzed from the chest down in the crash, opted not to watch the season opener in person. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to watch the game on TV even though it’s been on his mind.
“It’s not my team anymore,” Straschnitzki said earlier. “I wish them the best of luck, but it’s not my team and it’s going to be hard to watch knowing that I should be out there.”
Tom Straschnitzki said he understands why his son might be hesitant.
“He should be playing in this home opener today as with the other players,” he said.
“It’s a difficult day.”
Humboldt Mayor Robert Muench said he thinks the game marks a step forward for his small city.
“I think people were … really looking forward to the season getting going and seeing the new team and seeing the results of a lot of work from a lot of people getting the team back on the ice,” he said.
“In my mind, it’s kind of a new page, a new chapter in the book I guess _ moving forward as a community and as a team.”
A sold-out crowd watched the Nipawin Hawks come back to win 2-1.
The Broncos will board a bus again on Friday and head to Nipawin for a rematch.
– With files from The Canadian Press