HUMBOLDT, Saskatchewan – Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter were back on the ice for the Humboldt Broncos on Wednesday night in the team's first game since 10 teammates and six other people were killed in a bus crash.
Camrud and Patter are the only survivors back with the junior hockey team. In a game televised commercial-free in Canada and the United States, the Broncos faced the Nipawin Hawks, the team they were travelling to face the night of the April crash with a tractor-trailer. The Broncos will board a bus again Friday to head to Nipawin for a rematch.
"In the wake of this tragedy, Humboldt has shown incredible resilience and strength," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a Liberal caucus meeting in Saskatoon. "Canadians were quick to share their love, support, generosity and kindness in a moment when it was so desperately needed. So to the people of Humboldt, know that we are with you. Know that we will continue to support you as you heal."
Camrud overcame a severe concussion, loss of feeling in one of his arms and neck issues to make it back on the ice Wednesday. He and Patter shared a brief hug after they skated on the ice. They took part in a ceremonial puck drop with other crash survivors, with goalie Jacob Wassermann using a wheelchair to get on the ice.
"I think it's a step in the healing process for sure," said survivor Kaleb Dahlgren, who is now playing college hockey in Ontario. "Playing tonight definitely helps heal the wounds but it won't for sure heal everything. There's still lots that need to be done."
The entrance to the Elgar Petersen Arena was lined with pictures of the people who died in the crash. Sixteen hockey sticks adorned with green and yellow ribbons were lined up outside, near a green bench with the words "Always in our hearts. 29 on the fateful ride, 16 souls died." Late coach Darcy Haugan's saying of "It's a great day to be a Bronco, gentlemen." is inscribed outside the dressing room.
"We're going to find out what our new normal is after today," team president Jamie Brockman said. "Hockey is back in Humboldt. We are strong and we are going to survive and we are going to move forward."
Ryan Straschnitzki, the former Humboldt player paralyzed from the chest down in the crash, decided not to watch the season opener in person and wasn't even sure he wanted to watch on TV.
"It's not my team anymore," Straschnitzki said. "I wish them the best of luck but it's not my team and it's going to be hard to watch knowing that I should be out there."