HUMBOLDT- Mark and Kaleb Dahlgren drove into the Elgar Petersen Arena on Wednesday as the Humboldt Broncos returned to the ice, not as the hockey dad and Bronco son duo like in years past, but as fans, as friends, as family.
Throughout the long and winding entrance to the rink, pictures of all 16 players, coaches and team staff that fell in the April 6 bus crash were posted up on posts. Kaleb was one of the 13 survivors but suffered significant injuries in the collision.
The two saw each of the photographs before Mark looked over at his son and said: “I’m sure glad your picture’s not up there.”
“We’re the lucky ones,” Mark told media prior to the game. “We don’t take it for granted. Every day, we are appreciative to still have him with us.”
Dahlgren joined the York University Lions men’s hockey team this year, aiming to recover from his injuries and take the ice by the holiday season for his new USports club. Despite now being based in Toronto, Dahlgren was coming to the game — more so as he is able to.
“I think it’s very important for me to be here tonight, to honour those 16 victims that can’t be here, and other people as well involved in the bus accident that can’t be here," Kaleb said. "To honour everyone that has been affected by this, both internally and externally. There’s a lot of people that have been affected by it, it’s something serious. It’s nice to be here. An honour to be here supporting the Humboldt Broncos organization.”
As much as Broncos head coach and general manager Nathan Oystrick wanted Wednesday’s home opener to be a “normal game,” it wasn’t. In fact, this is all new to the new bench boss.
“I don’t know what normal is,” Oystrick said. “But we’re just going to continue to come to the rink every morning and compete and work. That’s what we have to do moving forward. That’s what we’ll continue to do.”
Even the opening ceremony wasn’t “normal,” but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t fitting. It featured the two Broncos crash survivors and returning players Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter, who took the faceoff against each other, with all of last year’s players there to drop the puck.
Camrud and Patter started the game along with Humboldt’s own Reagan Poncelet, not just for sentimental purposes, but because Oystrick said “they deserved it.”
“I thought they were tremendous. I can’t say enough good things about either of those guys. They work and they work. They do the little things that help us compete and help us be a good team."
The end result was a win for the Nipawin Hawks 2-1.
The Broncos got their first goal in the new era courtesy of 20-year-old newcomer Michael Clarke. Clarke scored on a 5-on-3 power play after scoring on a backdoor feed from one of two newcomers in Brayden Camrud.
But at the end of the second period, the Hawks scored twice in a 3:29 span to take a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes of play.
On a delayed penalty, Cole Beamin scored on a one timer from the slot. Moments later, Jeremy Bisson scored the deciding goal with a contested chance out in front, which deflected off the knob of Broncos goaltender Dane Dow’s stick.
After the game, 29 banners, one for every member on the bus, were unraveled on ice in a touching tribute, eventually forming a circle. Jerseys of all the players that played last year will be retired, as well as banners representing the team staff.
1-0, Broncos, Michael Clarke from Brayden Camrud and Owen Guenter, (power play), 2:08
1-1, Hawks, Cole Beamin from Jake Tremblay and Arik Breton (delayed penalty), 14:38
2-1, Hawks, Jeremy Bisson from Austen Flaman, 18:07
Broncos: Dane Dow, 24-26
Hawks: Declan Hobbs, 39-40
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