SASKATCHEWAN - The first of many text messages came in at 6:17 pm Friday evening, saying that the Humboldt Broncos' bus had been in an accident on the way to a playoff game in Nipawin.
For the sake of keeping my listeners updated across the province, I shot a quick note to a friend in Humboldt whom I knew would have the latest details, but wouldn't be on that bus.
"It's our worst nightmare," he responded. And then moments later he texted something else:
"Guys are dead Roddy."
In 2018 bad news travels fast. Waves upon waves of text messages started coming in from anxious parents, aunts and uncles, and friends. How do you tell someone that you know there are fatalities, but don't know the names?
You don't. But sitting tight and waiting for the news from authorities - either good or bad - clearly was the longest hours of these peoples' lives. And then, the worst.
You've all heard that hockey is a tight-knit community. Saskatchewan is a tight-knit community. So throw them both together and you've got a tragedy that seemingly has affected everyone in this province of a million souls.
Finding out more and more details over the weekend only made you feel worse. It was a disaster beyond our worst nightmare. As officials said during Saturday's news conference at the Uniplex, "First Responders came upon things they'll never be able to forget."
I didn't know those Humboldt Broncos players personally, but I knew them.
Junior hockey players are all the same and they're my favourite people on the planet. Positive, happy, and full of life.
Until they're not. And what some of those players went through Friday night is unspeakable. That was the gut-punch.
So upset on Saturday morning, I reached out to a Team Chaplain from another SJHL team looking for guidance. However he apologized and said he himself was still very distraught, counting the deceased Broncos Head Coach/GM Darcy Haugan as a close, long-time friend.
My eyes still hurt from crying so much.
What the hell is there to be grateful for? We should "thank our lucky stars" for what? Being grateful today seems selfish while families are grieving the loss of their sons, fathers, husbands, brothers, boyfriends and friends. They are NEVER coming home again.
There's a daughter, neighbour and friend battling for her life right now in hospital too, and her name is Dayna Brons. She's the Humboldt Broncos' therapist/trainer, and needs to be included in your prayers.
What are the odds of two vehicles of that size, travelling at that rate of speed, colliding at that split second in conditions that are clear as a bell? It almost seems pre-determined by some twisted divine intervention, but then you're ashamed for even thinking as much.
When I arose Saturday morning, it seemed symbolic that the bright sun had indeed come up and it was confirmation that the world isn't going to stop turning. It just stopped for these 15 tragic souls.
What about them? Where's their guardian angel?
Somehow the Broncos, the SJHL, the SHA and Hockey Canada will ensure to find a way for these young men not to have died in vain but that's months away. A shoulder patch like the Swift Current Broncos wear honouring The Four Broncos would cover the entire sleeve of Humboldt's jersey. There will have to be another way.
The death of Humboldt Broncos broadcaster Tyler Bieber is a dagger that keeps plunging in and out of the heart of the hockey broadcasting community. Everybody loved Tyler and his name will forever be the symbol of a young, aspiring play-by-play man who perished while following his dreams and doing what he loved.
Might I suggest the Tyler Bieber Memorial Award to be awarded annually to the SJHL Broadcaster who contributes the most to his community? Tyler coached high school sports in Humboldt and always helped out the Kelly Bates Football Camp. (Bates - the longtime CFL player and coach who hails from Humboldt - has already progressed to the anger stage with regards to Tyler's passing).
Throughout the weekend I've been speaking with others who could've been on that bus. Would've been on that bus. Should have been on that bus. At this point, they can't bring themselves to say anything at all.
Other hockey people are just phoning to talk, and perhaps provide a mild distraction. But the conversation always keeps coming back to the Broncos. "This is why I never sleep on the bus," said a legendary coach, and those words are now going to echo in my head for the rest of my bloody life.
Kudos to the men who spoke at Saturday's news conference: Humboldt Mayor Rob Muench, Broncos President Kevin Garinger, SJHL President Bill Chow and the RCMP's Curtis Zablocki. They addressed North America with a stiff upper lip, but they had no choice. They are leaders and people are looking for leadership at this time.
I’m so proud of how they’ve represented our province.
However Bill Chow can be forgiven for briefly losing his composure. When he took to the podium on Saturday, I thought he'd be leaning on his decades-long career as an officer with the Prince Albert City Police in which he's truly seen the worst the world has to offer. But he struggled to speak, and that's because he's the steward of this league. Right now the SJHL is going through the worst imaginable tragedy in its 50 years.
Oh, and that's the ironic thing. I've been dealing with Bill Chow and SJHL Marketing Director Logan Fraser on a weekly basis for the last year working on an expansive project to commemorate the SJHL's Golden Anniversary in 2018. It's taken months to put together and involves dozens of people. The photo atop this column was taken specifically for the venture. Now, I'm guessing, it's going to have to be shelved. Who knows? That's not important now.
What's important - from a hockey standpoint - is the remainder of the SJHL Playoffs which will assuredly be played.
Not surprisingly Bill Chow said on Saturday afternoon that no plans have been made yet and that's understandable because the tragedy was less than 24 hours old at the time. But hockey people seem to universally agree that "the show must go on" and the Estevan Bruins are waiting in the league final for the first time in 20-some years.
Darcy Haugan would have wanted it that way. And by the way, Haugan was an excellent ambassador for a franchise that's always been synonymous with success and class.
For today however, it's time to bring our focus back to the "now". What can be done to support each other and somehow ease the suffering? There is so much unimaginable pain at the moment.
It was mentioned during Saturday's news conference that "the circumstances of this tragedy are unprecedented."
Great. Why does this always seem to be us? Why does it always have to happen to us? What is it about Saskatchewan?
There are still so many questions. The only clear answer I have is this:
We will heal - together - one day at a time.