Once a Raider, always a Raider.
Those words took on a poignant significance this weekend as coaches and players of the St. Albert Raiders hockey club learned that five former Raiders were among those killed in a horrific Friday bus crash on a Saskatchewan highway.
Humboldt Broncos head coach Darcy Haugan and four players — Jaxon Joseph, 20, of Edmonton, Conner Lukan, 21, of Slave Lake and St. Albert natives Logan Hunter, 18, and Stephen Wack, 21 — have all, at one time or another, called the Raiders’ locker-room at the Akinsdale Arena home.
On Sunday, the front wall of the locker-room was adorned with the four jerseys of the young men as about 40 members of the St. Albert Raiders community gathered to share memories of the athletes.
Jack Redlick, head coach of the Midget AAA team, tried valiantly not to cry as he prepared for the small event. He said it’s his job to give strength to the team as they grieve the loss of their friends.
“As coaches, your job is to find the ‘why’ in everything that you teach these boys,” he said through tears. “And I struggled yesterday trying to find the ‘why’ to explain to them why this needed to happen.”
Redlick said he was devastated when he heard about the Friday crash near Tisdale, Sask., in which the Humboldt Broncos’ team bus collided with a semi-trailer, killing 15 people.
It prompted him to bring the St. Albert hockey community together in honour of the five former Raiders.
“You’re a family,” he said, surrounded by the jerseys of current Raiders hung on the walls. “And it’s important in times like this to lean on one another and share with one another.
“If you keep it bottled up inside, it can eat you alive.”
But on Sunday, the emotions flowed freely.
Hunter ‘was the happiest guy ever’
People at the gathering spoke fondly of Logan Hunter, who played for the Raiders last year.
Redlick described him as a “big teddy bear” who wasn’t just a good hockey player, but a good person as well.
“He’s one of those people when you walk in a room, he’s always got a smile on his face. He creates a positive environment around him,”‘ Redlick said.
“Unreal athlete. Unbelievable student.”
Sam Smith-Ackerl played hockey with Hunter for two years, and echoed Redlick’s sentiments.
“Logan had the most infectious laugh ever … you could hear his laugh from across the room and it would make anyone smile,” he said. “He was the happiest guy ever.”
Former teammate Josh Porter said Hunter was a “goofy guy” who brought people together, often starting games of road hockey in the summer or recruiting people to head to the outdoor rink in winter.
Porter said he was shocked when he found out his friend didn’t survive the crash.
“When I saw the news I just kept reading it and re-reading it,” he said. “And I just didn’t want to believe it was true,”
Even as Porter grapples with his own grief, he paused to reflect on the loss that Hunters’ parents and two sisters are experiencing.
“I can’t believe what they’re going through,” he said. “That’s too much, losing a son like that.”
Hunter’s sister Shelby shared photos of her brother on Twitter.
“I miss you with every second that passes, baby brother,” she wrote. “I love you, forever.”
No words can describe this loss and heaviness in my heart. My brother was such an amazing person and I wish the entire world had the opportunity to experience being in his presence. I miss you with every second that passes baby brother. I love you, forever. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/broncosstrong?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#broncosstrong</a> <a href=”https://t.co/H7hXxIAzxL”>pic.twitter.com/H7hXxIAzxL</a>
Wack’s ‘heart was as big as his six-foot-five body’
The family of Stephen Wack sent a message that was read at the gathering by one of his Raider teammates.
“The outpouring of support, well-wishes and love has been absolutely incredible. Comments, posts, messages and calls all helped paint the picture of what an incredible group of boys we lost,” said the statement from his parents, Alan and Trish Wack, and his brother, Justin.
“The force of impact ended our boys’ lives immediately. None had the time to be scared or had to endure any suffering,” the statement continued.
“Our boy Stephen was truly one of a kind. He was an incredible, smart, quick-witted athlete. His heart was as big as his six-foot-five body, and his compassion for others was woven into his deepest character.”
A memorial in honour of Wack and the other people who died in the crash sits outside the Athletes Nation One training facility in St. Albert. Wack had been training at the facility since he was 11.
A small memorial is growing outside of the gym in St. Albert where Stephen Wack used to train. <br><br>This woman says she doesn’t know the family, but was moved by the loss. She laid flowers with her son. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/HumboldtStrong?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#HumboldtStrong</a> <a href=”https://t.co/OH0eSCvaHr”>pic.twitter.com/OH0eSCvaHr</a>
Dan LaJoie, the director of athletic performance at the training centre, said Wack was a “gentle soul” who had a vigour for life.
“He didn’t always do the old traditional athlete kind of things … he was preoccupied with other things as well,” LaJoie said, referring to the 21-year-old’s knack for making videos. “He had so many aspirations.”
Wack’s brother Justin shared one of those videos on Twitter, saying “he literally spent dozens of hours on each one.”
LaJoie said Wack was a great big brother to Justin, and said he sees a lot of Wack’s mannerisms in the teen.
Wack also had a lasting impact on the people he trained with, he said.
“When someone leaves a trace of themselves with you, you see it in them. So even when Alan and Trish see some of the boys, they’ll still see a lot of Stephen in there, too,” LaJoie said.
“There’s a lot of guys finishing — ” he trailed off, fighting back tears. “Finishing their seasons for him too this year. I think that’s pretty special.”
Wack’s family asked that people continue to remember their son.
Kevin Porter, Raiders hockey club president, said the legacy of the five former Raiders will be remembered. The club will likely create a banner or jerseys in their honour, he said.
“Once a Raider, always a Raider,” Porter said.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to make sure they’re not forgotten.”
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