Humboldt tragedy strikes close to hearts in hockey country

The career path leading to joining “The Show,” as the NHL is known to many, is long and hard with many heartbreaks and sacrifices that must be made in order to follow that road. No one though, anticipates the kind of crushing heartbreak that has gripped the families and friends of Saskatchewan’s Humboldt Broncos following the tragic accident that killed 15 team members and critically injured 14 more.

The entire nation is mourning this incredible tragedy, particularly so in rural regions where hockey has perhaps its deepest roots. Rare is the Manitoulin family who has not travelled in a van filled to the brim with hockey bags of equipment and a host of eager young players looking forward to a tournament in a neighbouring Island town. The Humboldt tragedy epitomizes the deepest fears of countless Canadian parents who wave goodbye to their children as they travel with teammates in a bus to a tournament or a game taking place in another city or town. For the parents and friends of the players and coaches lost in the Humboldt tragedy, and those of the team bus driver who by all accounts was an amazingly delightful human being common to those drawn to that profession, to say that this is a “tragedy” minimizes the loss that will change people and communities forever.

Manitoulin communities are no strangers to tragedies of our own. Winter (or early spring) travel is a perilous undertaking and we have had our own hockey tournament tragedies in years past, although usually with far less loss of life, but the tragedy of a single life taken too soon cannot be weighed in any kind of emotional balance or scale. But to have so many lives lost in one fateful moment staggers the imagination.

The tragic loss of a group of young people in any season reverberates for generations, the ripples of that pain and emotions revisit families and friends, entire communities, and never really goes away and memories can be, and are, triggered by tragedies such as the one currently gripping the Humboldt families and community today. Of course being a junior hockey league team, the grief and trauma are also stretched out into communities across Western Canada.

It is a cautionary note to be mindful of that fact as we inevitably discuss the news reports and, sometimes hurtful, rumours that inevitably follow in the wake of such tragedy. Be aware of those around you who you care about, and how this tragedy might be impacting them over the coming days and weeks as they are bombarded with the media storm that latches onto these events. Perhaps just take a moment to give a hug to someone you know who may be unusually distracted or distraught during this time.

It is tragedies like this that remind us all of how much we have in common with people we have never met, so much more than those differences that sometimes divide us. The magnitude of this tragedy may have sent its ripples far further than those smaller more localized tragedies that are far more common, but no less terrible for those living through them. Let us channel the emotions generated by this time of national mourning into empathy, understanding and compassion for those suffering trauma and grief.

Today we are all reminded that, but for a split second of chance on a dark country road, we are all Humboldt.