Hockey fans pack Virden hockey arena for MJHL finals as team pays tribute to Humboldt Broncos

Hockey fans packed Tundra Oil and Gas Place in Virden, Man., Thursday night, but not just because the hometown Virden Oil Capitals was on the ice. They also showed up to show their support to the Humboldt Broncos.

Oil Capitals hosted ceremony ahead of Thursday's game, sold shirts, had fans write messages for Humboldt

Fans attending Thursday's Virden Oil Capitals game were invited to write a message to the Humboldt Broncos on a banner. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Hockey fans packed Tundra Oil and Gas Place in Virden, Man., Thursday night, but not just because the hometown Virden Oil Capitals was on the ice. They also showed up to show their support to the Humboldt Broncos. 

"It's two teams playing tonight, but the hockey family is one family," said Paige Meikle, one of the fans that packed Virden's 1,200-seat arena. "It's one community and we're all coming together to support." 
Paige Meikle's family has billeted hockey players in Virden for the past five seasons. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)
Meikle's family has deep roots in the hockey community, having billeted Virden Oil Capitals players for the past five years. But she also has something in common with the billet parents in Humboldt — she knows what it's like to lose a player. 

Cole Hamblin, who died in 2014 of cancer at age 21, was a former Virden Oil Capital and billeted with Meikle's family. 

"It was earth shattering because I know how those families feel," she said. "It's incomparable but I know how they feel." 

'Humboldt strong'

The Virden Oil Capitals and Steinbach Pistons played Game 2 of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League finals on Thursday. The game was scheduled to be played last Sunday, but was postponed out of respect for the Humboldt Broncos and the families that lost loved ones.

Sixteen people died when the team's bus collided with a transport truck and trailer near Tisdale, Sask., last Friday when the team was on the way to a semi-final game in Nipawin. 

The Virden Oil Capitals sold 'Humboldt Strong' shirts and had a large poster for people to write messages to the Broncos. The teams also observed 16 seconds of silence before the game, one second for each of those who died. 
Meikle wrote a message to the Broncos, paying tribute to a hockey player her family billeted who died of cancer. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Meikle wrote a message to the team.

"Cole will welcome the Broncos to the rink in heaven with open arms. Much love," it read. 

Trinity Smith was among those who bought shirts. She's been checking for updates on the players still in hospital every moment she's able. 

"I have three daughters who have been in sports … so I felt having the kids, I needed to be there and support these boys and their team," she said.

"If something like this were to happen to us, we'd be just as devastated as Saskatchewan is," said Sydnie Nolan, another fan who came to show her support. 

Fans not only came out to cheer on the Virden Oil Capitals in game 2 of the MJHL finals against the Steinbach Pistons, but they also turned out to show their support for the Humboldt Broncos. 1:50

Ceremony held before puck drop 

The team hosted a ceremony ahead of the game to honour to pay respect to the Broncos and as a tribute to the billet parents and first responders. A short video was also shown.

"It really felt like it happened to one of our teams, the same feeling," said Kevin Saurette, Director of Operations with the MJHL. He was in attendance at the game. 
"A lot of our players, a lot of our coaches have played or worked in both leagues and there's a real partnership and frienship between the leagues," he said, adding that postponing the finals on Sunday was the "right thing to do." 
Players swapped out their last names for 'Broncos' name bars for Thursday's game. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Players from both teams traded the names on the back of their jerseys for 'Broncos' name bars.

"I think we're just playing for something a little bit bigger than a hockey game," said Jack Lenchyshyn, a defenseman with the Pistons. "The hockey community is a tight knit community and you just always have those guys in your hearts and in the back of your head."
Jack Lenchyshyn, who plays defence for the Steinbach Pistons, said the hockey community is tight-knit and the tragedy and the Broncos have been on the minds of he and his teammates. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Virden won the game 4–3. Game 3 will be played Saturday evening in Steinbach. 

"It just makes me so happy to be part of a hockey community and to see how much Canada can put aside everyone's differences and rally together and realize that hockey heals," said Meikle. 
Steinbach Pistons players stand during a ceremony to honour the Humboldt Broncos players who died and to pay tribute to the first responders, billet families and others. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

About the Author

Riley Laychuk

CBC Manitoba reporter

Riley Laychuk is CBC's reporter based in Brandon, covering rural Manitoba. Share your story ideas, tips and feedback: riley.laychuk@cbc.ca.