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Humboldt Broncos honoured as late coach wins Willie O'Ree Award

Surviving members of the Humboldt Broncos were honoured at the National Hockey League's awards night in Las Vegas, accepting the inaugural Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award on behalf of their late head coach, Darcy Haugan.

Christina Haugan accepts award on behalf of husband Darcy

Christina Haugan and surviving members of the Humboldt Broncos accept the Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award for her late husband Darcy, coach of the team who was killed in a bus crash on April 6 that also left 15 others dead. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Surviving members of the Humboldt Broncos were honoured at the National Hockey League's awards night in Las Vegas, accepting the inaugural Willie O'Ree Community Hero Award on behalf of their late head coach, Darcy Haugan.

Haugan was one of 16 people killed when the team's bus collided with a truck while en route to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game on April 6.

Surviving members of the Humboldt Broncos were reunited for the first time at the NHL awards in Las Vegas on Wednesday. 2:48

Haugan's widow, Christina, accepted the award and said her husband's legacy could not be found in the statistics, but in the many players he coached.

Hockey Night in Canada's Scott Oake and Elliotte Friedman introduced each player as they came up on stage to a standing ovation.

Haugan was remembered for telling his players "it's a great day to be a Bronco" before each game. The O'Ree award, named for the NHL's first black player, is presented to an individual who, through hockey, has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.

"We can cry together, we can laugh together, we can do everything together and just kind of heal in our own way," said Tyler Smith, who suffered nerve damage and significant injuries to his left side, including a broken collarbone and shoulder blade. "It's a blessing to be able to be here together. We're all going to be Broncos forever, and no matter what day it is, it's a great day to be a Bronco."

Haugan is the first recipient of the Willie O'Ree community hero award. His wife, Christina Haugan, accepted the award on his behalf. 4:53

Victims and first responders from October's mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and injured dozens more just over a week before the Golden Knights played their first-ever regular-season home game were also honoured.

And members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School hockey team, which won the Florida state title shortly after a gunman killed 17 people there on Feb. 14, also attended the event. Stoneman Douglas is located in Parkland, some 20 kilometres from the Panthers' arena.

"The hockey family across the whole world, I'm very thankful for it. It's something you don't really expect," said Broncos alternate captain Kaleb Dahlgren, who suffered skull and spinal fractures. "You grow up with these people in your life and you consider them family. You're with them every day and so hockey is a family community. The support we've received from everybody has been very, very, very generous and we're all thankful for that. It makes the healing process easier."

Stanley Cup coming to Humboldt

The NHL and NHLPA hope to continue the healing on Aug. 24, when Washington Capitals forward Chandler Stephenson, a Saskatoon native, will bring the Stanley Cup to Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt, as part of an on-ice event that will include an on-ice skills competition between NHL players.

"I got the opportunity to meet the Broncos yesterday and their fighting spirit rubs off on you," said Tampa Bay Lightning Victor Hedman, who was awarded with the Norris Trophy as the top defenceman. "After those tragedies, the hockey community shows that everyone is together. This is more than just a game, we are family.

"It's such a special place, too, in Vegas. What they went through in October and the way this community rallied together with the hockey team, and the way the performed I think it's important for me to acknowledge that."

Golden Knights William Karlsson and Deryk Engelland, coach Gerard Gallant and the team's general manager George McPhee —— all four of whom won awards — joined the first responders and survivors honoured on stage midway through the show.

Engelland, Hall acknowledge tragedies

Engelland, who took home the Mark Messier Leadership Award, said the touching and now infamous "We Are Vegas Strong" speech he delivered before the Golden Knights' home opener will always be one of the biggest moments of his hockey career.

"Once I knew I was doing it, that's pretty much all that was going through my head for about four or five days, so I didn't want to screw that up," Engelland said. "It got us embedded in the community and the community embedded in us. Guys really took it upon themselves to keep winning for the people that were affected and the city. The excitement after every goal during every game really lifted every guy in our locker room."

New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall, who was awarded the Hart Trophy as the league's MVP, said he was touched by all three ceremonies that recognized the tragedies that took place during the season.

"Three terrible tragedies, three things that should never happen, we should never have to go through as a society," Hall said. "As a community, as a hockey community, you try and help everyone around you, you try and rally and just be a kind person to one another and hopefully that makes someone feel better."

with files from The Canadian Press, CBC Sports

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