The Humboldt Broncos and the Strong Arms of Saskatchewan – Third Sunday of Easter.


In a world of perfection, we’d be able to live perpetually in the peace and beauty of the Resurrection of Jesus. However, we know that we are never very far removed from the pain and anguish of the world. Easter Sunday doesn’t remove the reality of Good Friday and Good Friday has a way of coming along at surprising, almost never expected, moments.


How do we make sense of a tragic accident in Saskatchewan? That’s been a focus all week for many of us in this country, most of all the families of the hockey players and those who lost teammates.  Once again, parents of young people are trying to deal with the loss of life long before it should have happened. We keep finding examples of parents who bury their children, as opposed to the other way around.

We’ve all been affected by last week’s terrible tragedy on a highway in rural Saskatchewan. Sadness and grief disrupted the peace and sleep of much of the country.

Fifteen young people dead and fourteen injured, almost all very young.  I thought of my nephews and grandnephews. I thought of my nieces and grandnieces. I thought of my sister who drives a school bus in BC. It was hockey, but it could just as easily have been soccer or so many other activities. Riding all night to get home so that you’re up early for school the next day.


Athletic young men and their coach looking so proud as they posed for a team photo. A small town where the hockey arena is such an important part of the town. A 200-kilometre bus ride across the province.

And then an accident that changed many lives in an instant. Writing in The Toronto Rosie DiManno wrote of the tragedy in the Toronto Star. Her article wove together the image of “ribbons of highway that bind a vast country” and “passion for a sport, hockey, that makes us us.” She said that these two “should not end in tears and such immeasurable grief when they transect.”

DiManno quoted from a hospital employee: “Last night can only be described as the longest, worst and most tragic night of my career. The images can’t be unseen or forgotten, the stories can’t be unheard or ignored. Meeting each family and explaining the extent of this was nothing short of a painful exercise of cruelty …”

Mike Babcock, head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs: “You can’t make up for that loss. It’s got to rip the heart out of your chest.”


There has been some excellent and beautiful reporting in the media. Writing in The Globe and Mail, Roy MacGregor quoted Connor McDavid, the 21-year-old captain of the Edmonton Oilers and one of the best hockey players in the world. “Everyone has been on that bus before.” MacGregor says that the small towns across the nation “are forever touched by such unbearable losses. They find their strength and they continue on simply because it is what has to be done.”

Lorna Dueck, host of Context TV wrote a beautiful piece in that same paper about the strength of Saskatchewan. “It has a way of pulling you into community, activities of work and play that constantly cycle. There is a grittiness and practicality to making a living off the land, which is where all of Saskatchewan began. Grief is in the landscape, cycles of life and death in every harvest season. The struggle for life, the effort to keep being sustained, is in the DNA surrounding Humboldt and its loss … you find tenacity in the people who have their roots in making life come out of dead, cold ground.”

Dueck quoted Sean Brandow, chaplain to the Broncos. “God, we are hurt … we need you so badly.” Dueck says that having a chaplain in hockey life is part of the honest approach the arms of Saskatchewan take and within the arms of Saskatchewan there is an honesty about the reality of God.

Dueck says that Pastor Brandow was guttural in his declaration to the crowd: “This is the valley of darkness … to sit and hold the hand of a lifeless body … this is the valley of darkness. All I saw was darkness and hurt and anguish and fear and confusion. And I had nothing. Nothing. I’m a pastor, I’m supposed to have something.”


The honesty of those arms of Saskatchewan moved into the facts of Christian hope. “How do we know God was with us? Because Jesus was here before us. It’s in this time that we need a Shepherd who also has walked through this valley. You need Jesus, he walked it first,” Pastor Brandow said.

Meanwhile, the tragedy that provoked shock and grief across Canada and in the world of professional hockey continues to move Canadians, some of whom shared pictures of hockey sticks with candles on their doorsteps, a way of paying tribute to the victims.

A fundraising campaign for the survivors and victims’ families has become GoFundMe’s most successful Canadian fundraiser ever, raising more than $5.8-million by last Monday afternoon. We do what we can to be with the Broncos. We pray, always asking if that is enough.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

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