Nipawin’s team faces daunting bus ride after Humboldt crash

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Doug Johnson admits he hasn’t been thinking about hockey much during the last week.

Johnson coaches the Nipawin Hawks, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team that was supposed to play the Humboldt Broncos on April 6. Then came the bus crash that killed 16 people and changed everything.

Johnson’s team had its first post-crash practice earlier this week.

Now the team is heading toward two more emotionally heavy events: the league’s first game — the Hawks vs. the Estevan Bruins — since the crash, and a five-and-a-half hour bus ride to Estevan on Tuesday for a follow-up game.

Johnson realized a trip on a bus might not be easy for his players. But, he said, the next step toward getting things back to normal was simple. 

“Just get back on and get moving,” he said. 

‘Some apprehension’

“There was some fear, there was some apprehension about getting on a bus,” he said of his players.

So, at the team psychologist’s suggestion, Johnson borrowed a bus from another team and took his players for a short practice run.

Their destination was a steak barbecue at a cabin at Tobin Lake, northeast of Nipawin.

Wreckage is strewn amid the remains of the Broncos’ bus, on April 7. The crash killed 16 people. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Johnson brought his three-year-old daughter for the ride, “just maybe to loosen the mood and show the guys how safe I believe the bus was.”

The ride was quiet at first, he said.

“Then the volume steadily increased as it went on and then, on the way back, it was back to a normal bus ride,” he said.

‘Part of the healing process’

Team captain Brett Harasymuk admitted at a Hawks practice earlier this week that some players were also uneasy about getting back on the ice.

“Some people were saying, ‘Why are we doing this? Why hasn’t the league been shut down for this?'” he said.

“But I think the sooner we get on the ice, and get back to normal, it’s all part of the healing process.”

As for Tuesday’s game, and the trip it requires, “We’re going to leave Monday, a day before,” said Johnson.

“We’re going to give ourselves lots of time if there are any issues that arise, although we don’t think there will be.

“There’s been over a million miles on a bus, probably more, in my life, and I never had a fender bender.”

The Hawks rode to a steak barbecue at a cabin at Tobin Lake, northeast of Nipawin. (Google Maps)

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