Exactly one week to the day of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that claimed the lives of 16 people, the Power Dodge Estevan Bruins made a stop on their way to Nipawin on Friday night, to pay their respects at the intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 335.
The Bruins are set to take on the Nipawin Hawks in game one of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League final on Saturday night, in what's expected to be an extremely emotional series between two teams who share many connections with those who lost their lives on the Humboldt Broncos.
"For the first couple hours it kind of went by fast, I don't think anyone was really thinking about it too much," Bruins Captain, Jake Fletcher said of their road trip to Nipawin on Friday night. "Everyone was trying to keep it out of our heads as much as we could. As soon as we stopped in Tisdale and got closer and closer it really started to hit. I know lot's of guys were feeling really nervous on the bus and getting those butterflies you get when you hear about stuff like this, it was pretty tough."
Not only did the Bruins pay their respects to some of their close friends and opponents who were lost in the accident, they also took the time to honour the first responders who played a major role in saving lives on the night of April 6, 2018.
"They were the ones that were here right away," Fletcher said, after the team gave flowers to the Nipawin Fire Department. "I've heard all the stories about how amazing they were, and how they got here and did everything they could, and stayed as long as they had to no matter what. They were giving their coats to the players that needed them and were freezing out here and they're the real heroes out here. Who knows how many lives would've been lost if it wasn't for them."
Sharing words, hugs, and tears with one another, each member of the Bruins spent time at the crash site on Friday night, before continuing their journey north to Nipawin. The impact will certainly be felt forever, and it's something that hits close to home for members of the Bruins who spend the majority of their year with teammates and billet families.
"I think it's all the little things, you see guys favourite Timbits or guys favourite coffee's or little pregame meals or golf balls," Fletcher said of the tributes at the crash site. "It just stands out how well people in the community, their billet families or fans got to know these guys, and you don't realize that until something horrific like this happens. It just speaks to the hockey community and how they all rallied and really supported the Humboldt Broncos."
Leading into game one on Saturday night, it's safe to say that the Bruins, Hawks and everyone involved will have the Humboldt Broncos and their staff in their hearts until the end of time.
"Ever since it happened, there's been a lot of emotion all over the league, guys have been letting their emotions out. But I think there's been a lot of guys that have been holding it in, they think they had it all together, they were more or less over the worst of it, but once you stop here, it hits harder than anything else, you see where these guys were, and how close they were to playing their game, it's really tough," said Fletcher.