More than 1,000 people fill Airdrie hockey rink in support of injured Humboldt Broncos player

The hockey rink in Airdrie, Alta., where Ryan Straschnitzki used to practice was packed with hundreds of people clad in jerseys on Friday night for a candle light vigil in support of the Humboldt Broncos player who was injured in last week's crash.

The vigil was also a fundraiser to support Ryan Straschnitzki, who was paralyzed in the crash

More than 1,000 people packed into the Chinooks Winds Park in Airdrie, Alta., to show their support for Ryan Straschnitzki and the other victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

The hockey rink in Airdrie, Alta., where Ryan Straschnitzki used to practice was packed with more than 1,000 people clad in jerseys on Friday night for a candle light vigil in support of the Humboldt Broncos player who was injured in last week's crash.

Cody Thompson organized the event and has been raising funds to support Straschnitzki and his family by selling hats stitched with #strazstrong and a number 10 — Straschnitzki's number with the Broncos. 

Thompson told CBC his friend is doing well, all things considered. The 18-year-old suffered a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed, along with broken bones and internal damage.

"There's obviously pain involved, but he is making small improvements every day and that's all we can ask for at this point," he said.

He said he's not surprised Straschnitzki has proven to be such a fighter.

"That's the way Straz is, it's what made him such a special athlete and a special human being.

"He knows there's more to life than hockey and he still has a life to lead. There's not only an entire country but an entire community that spans as far as Europe that's behind him and wants to see him succeed."

The hats are being sold on Airdrie Minor Hockey's online store. All proceeds are going to the Straschnitzki family.

Among those attending the vigil were Calgary Flames players Sean Monahan, T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic who wore personalized #strazstrong Flames jerseys.

Thompson said some of the attendees at the vigil also knew Coach Darcy Haugan, who died in the collision.

He said the event was meant to both honour those lost and support those, like Straschnitzki, that survived.

"It's one of those things we really struggle with — the fact we're elated that our guy is OK, but it's not lost on us that a lot of other guys are not OK," he said. "There's a lot of players that are still here with us … and that are going to be dealing with this for a long time."

The vigil wasn't the only Alberta memorial for the Broncos on Friday.

The Okotoks Oilers and Spruce Grove Saints began their championship game with bowed heads and a moment of silence for their fellow players, and fans in the bleachers wore green ribbons on their hats and over their hearts. Proceeds from the ribbons were donated to the team.

A visitation was also held in Lethbridge for one of Straschnitzki's teammates, Logan Boulet, who died following the crash. 

An organ donor, Boulet was kept on life support until matches could be found, helping six people. 

The junior hockey team bus was headed to Nipawin, Sask., for a game on April 6 when a transport truck collided with it near Tisdale. Sixteen people were killed and 13 injured.

With files from Julie Debeljak, Shannon Scott