Like so many across the world, Alberta woodcarver Ryan Villiers was touched after the April 6 Humboldt Broncos bus crash.
As donations to support the families poured in, Villiers tried to find a way he could show his support for the team and the community of Humboldt.
“I couldn’t help with substantial money for donations, so the best thing I could think of in my own mind was to do a carving with my chainsaw and show my support that way.”
Villiers sat down with his sketchpad and eventually came up with the design – a life-size hockey player with angel wings.
He took the design to Geoff Stewart, a friend with woodcarving experience, and the two finalized the design.
LISTEN BELOW: Alberta woodcarver shows support for Humboldt Broncos
“His design worked really well and he came up with the paint scheme for the design as well,” Villiers said.
“One of the wings he carved — the one that comes off the shoulder and touches the ground — and the other one he drew me a schematic and I tried to copy what he had. It was a combination of both.”
The first attempt at the sculpture was halted when Villiers discovered some rotten wood in his block. Attempt number two started on July 24 and Villiers said they worked right through until two days before the Broncos’ first home game of the new season on Sept. 12.
At the end, it was a team of six – Villiers, Stewart, Mitch Boudreau, Grant Hipfner, Shawn Eisenkrien and Shawn Moore – working between 11 and 16 hours a day for three weeks to bring the final design to life in time for the home-opener.
“Those guys just dropped everything and helped me out.”
They not only helped with the carving, but Villiers said some of the men helped with the project financially.
Moore, with Eco Tree Trimmed-Line Tree Services out of Red Deer, supplied the wood and Hipfner, who is a co-owner of Timberland Supply, donated the chainsaws to complete the project.
Once it was done, the group disassembled the sculpture into six pieces and loaded it into a U-Haul. They drove to Humboldt and reassembled the sculpture in the curling rink – where the families of those who died in the crash would be staging the next night.
“We set it up and put tarps over it to hide it and the next evening we were asked to come unveil it,” Villiers said. “We snuck in through the back doors, pulled the tarps off and we just stood back in the shadows and the families came and took a look at it at their own convenience.
“It was a pretty heartfelt moment. I can’t describe it really, it was very touching.”
Villiers said they spoke with a number of parents of the players who had been killed who had nothing but nice things to say about the gift.
“There was a lot of tearing up. It was very emotional. A lot of it was a blur, it felt too surreal,” he said.
The sculpture will stay in Humboldt, though its final place hasn’t been decided yet. Villiers said the organization plans to put it at the hockey rink where the team plays.
“This was something from the bottom of my heart that I wanted to materialize and say, ‘Here, we support you.’ For me and the other individuals that helped me build this, it was just something everyone believed in and wanted to make happen and present to Humboldt, the parents the hockey team and the community.”