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NHL community reacts to fatal bus crash involving Humboldt Broncos

Canadian junior team was on way to playoff game in Saskatchewan; 15 killed, 14 injured

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- The crash involving a tractor-trailer and a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League on Friday that left 15 people dead and 14 injured has had a profound effect on the hockey world.

"Our thoughts are with the players, families, coaches, team management and all those throughout the community that have been affected by the tragedy involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday. "The NHL mourns the passing of those who perished and offers strength and comfort to those injured while traveling to play and be part of a game they all love."

The bus was transporting the Humboldt players to Nipawin, Saskatchewan, for the fifth game of a best-of-7 playoff series against the Nipawin Hawks. Nipawin won 6-5 in three overtimes in Humboldt on Wednesday to take a 3-1 series lead.

The SJHL, which is a a Junior A league under Hockey Canada and is part of the Canadian Junior Hockey League, is open to North American-born players ages 16-20.

Video: NHL teams come together to honor the Humboldt Broncos

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said there were 29 people, including the driver, on board the Broncos bus when the crash occurred at around 5 p.m. on Highway 35 north of Tisdale.

The RCMP did not release any names and did not say whether the dead include players or coaches. There was no mention of the truck driver.

Coaches and players from the around the NHL expressed their condolences Saturday. The Toronto Maple Leafs added the Broncos logo to their backdrop for their moring press briefing. The Calgary Flames had a team photo of the Broncos on a screen in their locker room. The Philadelphia Flyers held a moment of silence for the victims before their game against the New York Rangers.

"It's such a tragedy," said Maple Leafs forward Tyler Bozak, who is from Regina, Saskatchewan, about 135 miles south of Humboldt. "You can't really put it into words. It was hard to sleep last night. I can't imagine what everyone is going through in Saskatchewan. Obviously you just send your love and hope for the best and pray for the people involved. Saskatchewan is a great community. They'll rally together and do the best they can."

Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban was one of several NHL players to tweet about the accident, saying the Predators "are all on team Broncos!''

Tweet from @PKSubban1: My heart is heavy for all those impacted by the terrible tragedy in Saskatchewan. My thoughts and prayers are with you all... tonight when we play the last game of the regular season, we are all on team Broncos!

Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who grew up in Saskatoon, was emotional in discussing the crash.

"I can't even imagine being a parent or the wife or the kids at home going through something like this," Babcock said. "The hockey world is an unbelievable world but you can't make up for loss, you just can't, it rips the heart out of your chest. We pray for those families and are thinking about them. I don't know what else you say, it's a horrific, horrific accident. Tough day."

Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who played for Regina in the SJHL in 1979-80 and three years for Regina of the Western Hockey League, said every player in the NHL can relate to members of the Broncos.

"Those young men were chasing a dream," Trotz said. "Because a lot of our players in this League were chasing that same dream and being on the same buses on the way. That brings some reality to the whole what we do for a living."

Video: CHI@WPG: Moment of silence for Broncos in Winnipeg

Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Glenn Hall, the most famous NHL player to come from Humboldt, was saddened by the news.

"I'm sure that Humboldt is devastated, and I don't know if it will ever come back from a situation like this," Hall said Saturday from his farm in Stony Plain, Alberta. "I knew [Friday] night there were fatalities. I stayed awake most of the night, but to get up to find out just how many; it was startling, heartbreaking. There are no words to convey what I'm feeling and what I'm sure Humboldt and all of those who have been affected by this awful tragedy are feeling."

As a teenager, Hall played for Humboldt of the Northern Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in 1947-48 and 1948-49 before joining Windsor of the Ontario Hockey Association for two seasons, his final amateur stop before turning pro with Edmonton of the WHL.

A page on GoFundMe, a fundraising website, has been created to assist the families of the players. Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said Saturday every member of the team will donate. As of Saturday afternoon, close to $1.2 million had been raised.

"Guys have been talking about it here all morning and we're going to put together a donation for them and hope that other teams do the same and we can help those families out," Gallagher said.

Flames coach Glen Gulutzan, who knows Broncos president Kevin Garinger, said he spoke to Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan about how they can help.

"I talked to Todd McLellan this morning early trying to figure out a way that he and I can go in there," Gulutzan said. "It's just tough. It's just tough. I just feel for mom and dad and the kids. I can't say that enough."

Flames captain Mark Giordano said the Broncos will be on his mind during Calgary's game Saturday against the Vegas Golden Knights.

"We didn't really have a meeting this morning," Giordano said. "It was more talking about what happened and going through it. Honestly it's going to be tough tonight to turn the switch and try not to think about what happened to those players and that team and that community. Yeah, there's not much you can say. Just thinking about them."

Members of NHL Central Scouting, who were in Toronto for the fouth day of meetings to determine the final list of North American skaters and goaltenders for the 2018 NHL Draft, were shaken by the news.

Video: NYR@PHI: Moment of silence for Humboldt Broncos

"As big as the game of hockey is, as big as Canada is, this hits hard with everyone in the hockey world and particularly those involved with junior hockey," said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. "The loss of a young life is a tragedy at any time, and when it involves an entire team, the devastating loss of loved ones is heart-wrenching.

"Every day hockey teams, players, scouts and parents are on the road heading to arenas everywhere, so this impacts everyone, and these young men and the Humboldt Broncos will be forever remembered."

David Gregory scouted the SJHL when he started working for NHL Central Scouting in 2007-08.

"It's devastating really because it doesn't matter how closely connected or how far you are away from it, if you're in our industry, it hits home to some degree," Gregory said. "We've all been on those buses, on those roads, and you just feel for these families because it's just a horrible situation.

"This is a stepping stone to playing NCAA hockey or hockey into the Western Hockey League for some of the kids. The league is what we used to call in the old days, Tier 2 junior. It's high-level hockey. These are kids committed to the game, and Humboldt was in their playoffs and are all on the way to what they hope is a championship."

New Jersey Devils defensman Damon Severson, who is from Melville, Saskatchewan, about 160 miles from Humboldt, said the long bus rides are a sanctuary for junior teams, a chance for players to get to know their teammates.

"You're bonding on that bus and that's when you spend the most time together," said Severson, who played for Melville of the SJHL and Kelowna of the WHL. "I just look back on my time and I played in Western Canada and we spent a ton of time on the bus on our road trips.

"It's just a tragedy. It's nothing you can do. It's out of their control. They're just on a bus thinking they're going to a playoff game and they're trying to win a hockey game and all the sudden your life gets taken like that. My support goes out to them, and when I get back after the season to Saskatchewan I'll try to do anything I can to help them out." writers Nicholas J. Cotsonika, Dave Stubbs, Mike Zeisberger, Tom Gulitti and Dave McCarthy contributed to this report

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