By: Brendan McGuire
We’re off to the bowling alley, the wifey and I.
A Friday night of some drinks, some laughs and some really bad bowling. But on the way I scan my phone (of course) and notice a Facebook post from a buddy “Please Pray for the Humboldt Broncos”.
What on earth would compel Trevor Lakness to say such a thing over a 6th game of a playoff series?
I knew the Broncos were in a must-win down 3 games to 1 heading to Nipawin but that would hardly seem worthy of such a post from a Regina guy. “Hmm”, I thought to myself.
We’re pulling up to the Golden Mile Mall in south Regina and ‘ding, ding ding’ a news app on my phone starts going off like a pinball machine. “Humboldt Broncos Bus Crash” is everywhere. The game tonight is cancelled and no other info really available.
Having spent my formative adult years riding buses all over the SJHL with the Estevan Bruins, a thought jumped into my head immediately: What about Humboldt Head Coach/GM Darcy Haugan? He was the first person I ever met in the SJHL back in August of 2002.
I walked down to the old Aud in Estevan to do my first ever recorded interview with a real sports person and he was it. I was nervous as all hell that day and he noticed. “Hi I’m Darcy” he said, holding his hand out for a handshake. “I’m the assistant coach of the Estevan Bruins. What’s your name?”
“Brendan McGuire," I replied with a nervous 19-year-old tremble of someone getting an awful sense of stage fright.
“Jerry Maguire?” he says with a laugh (referencing that stupid but awesome Tom Cruise movie). “Pleased to meet you”, he shook my hand with a laugh.
From there, it was easy. I lobbed softball questions at him about upcoming training camp and all the other stuff.
That November I would broadcast a Bruin game in North Battleford on a Sunday night, get on the bus after sitting near the front with Darcy, the trainer Richard ‘Tinty’ Winton (Brad Herauf gave him that nickname) and the other coaches Doug Trapp and Kelly Lovering. I had a good sleep on the long drive home to Estevan.
The next day at the rink I find out the bus driver had dozed off and swirved into the wrong lane. My memories of the incident are foggy with the 15-plus years that have since passed but my recollection tells me Lovering jumped up to get the driver some water and kept chatting with him just to keep him awake so we could all get home safely.
I remember sitting in the coaches office thanking Kelly for saving my life and probably everyone else’s. We had a lot of discussion about bus safety and I’m sure Darcy was probably there too.
All of these memories were flooding in on Friday night and I still can’t find out if Darcy or anyone else on the bus is safe. “Have a drink” someone says. “Take your mind off it.” No cell service available in the basement of the Golden Mile and that’s probably a good thing I tell myself.
Except it wasn’t. Just made think about it some more.
We move upstairs to play some pool at the Broken Rack and I begin texting Tinty, “Have you heard about Darcy or any of the others yet?”
“No, have you?” he texts back.
We’re 2 hours apart but watching this unfold together, Tinty and I.
He was also friends with Bronco assistant coach Mark Cross. Everyone in Estevan seemed to like him too.
The Horror Hits Me
“I don’t think Darcy made it” reads the facebook message I get from someone who still works in the SJHL.
I tell Tinty and he wants to know about Mark Cross so I ask on his behalf.
“Dead.” Is the reply. “Radio guy, dead.”
Then the reports of the death toll numbers come in and I slump back into my chair contemplating whether I need to ball my face off or try and hold it together so the crowd around me could remain oblivious to what just happened.
“I haven’t talked to Darcy in 14 years” I tell myself. It’s sad but doesn’t affect me like it does so many others.
Except it did affect me.
I remembered the enthusiasm Darcy had in hoping to get the Bruin head coach job in the spring of 2003. His speech at the year-end banquet telling the 20-year-old graduates to hold their head high despite a disappointing end to their junior hockey careers. “Winning is a process” he told the crowd. “And you guys need to understand that when we get this thing turned around, you’ll be a part of this too in your own way.”
Darcy didn’t get the job that summer. I met with him while he cleaned out his office to move home to northwestern Alberta (Peace River, I think) to work in his dad’s tire shop and coach the Peace Air Navigators junior B team. He had worked hard in recruiting players who all of a sudden would have to decide if they wanted to play for a different head coach. Darcy was heartbroken but held his head high, vowing to continue chasing his dream to one day become a junior A head coach.
Never Gave Up
It would take Darcy 12 years to reach that goal but damned if he didn’t pull it off.
Most coaches who haven’t made it by then, throw in the towel and reluctantly give up their dream for a 9 to 5 job. Not Darcy. He was going to make it, come hell or high water.
He would make his comeback to the 306 in 2015 when he got the Humboldt job.
It would be a stretch to suggest Darcy and I were close. We weren’t. I was a swinging bachelor and he was a dedicated family man who loved his wife, Christina.
But I share these memories because I remember sitting across the aisle on many a bus ride chatting with Darcy while he played NHL video games on his laptop (remember this was 2002-2003 so that was a pretty rare thing for anyone to have back then) and he wasn’t your usual, intense, always stressed out hockey coach either. He was living his dream and not afraid to show it.
If only we all had the courage to fight for our dreams the way Darcy did.
What Really Matters
And now that both Kelly Lovering (passed away a few years ago) and Darcy Haugan are gone, I finally realize that it’s not about the wins and losses that make junior hockey what it is.
It’s the memories of the bus rides, rooming in dumpy motels, and riding the iron lung all over hell for little to no money just to live a dream.
This was our NHL! This was their NHL! This is rural Saskatchewan’s NHL!
These men who died and the others dealing with lifelong injuries and emotional scars had the courage to live their dreams.
I plan to honour Darcy’s legacy by giving the same friendship to everybody that he gave me and so many others. I never got the chance to really thank him for racing up to the broadcast booth just to do all those postgame interviews with a no-good talentless boob like me.
Rest in Peace Darcy!
Heaven Must’ve needed another coach.