Former voice of the Humboldt Broncos says town will rally

"I know that community will rally because that’s what Saskatchewan people do. It’s something we do as a province because we pull together. But they’re going to need a lot."

Play-by-play announcer Randy Merkley recalls the time he spent with the team

People gather at a memorial set up on the stairs that lead to Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt, Sask., on Saturday. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

In Humboldt, Sask., there will be the time before 15 people lost their lives in a devastating collision, and everything that comes after.

Randy Merkley was the former play-by-play announcer for the Humboldt Broncos in the 2000s. He was the voice of the team when they took the Canadian Junior A championships, winning the Royal Bank Cup in 2003.

"Hockey is life in [Humboldt]. That's what you do. On a Saturday night, in a town of 5,500 or whatever it is, there's 3,000 people in that rink. They love these kids," Merkley said.

"I honestly don't know if there's going to be a real good answer of how people are going to move on. I think everyone will be different. Everyone grieves differently."

Randy Merkley was a play-by-play announcer for the Humboldt Broncos. (Submitted by Randy Merkley)

Merkley, who was also a close friend of head coach Darcy Haugan, who died in the collision, remembered the long bus trips that characterized so much of his life and work.

"[Saturday] night I was dreaming all night about being on a hockey bus. I was thinking about when I was young and I was playing even my years on the bus with some junior hockey teams," he said.

When he retired from sports broadcasting in 2011, Merkley recalled how he wrote about how he would miss "those long bus rides with the guys."

"It was a time where you could sit and get to know about these kids," he said.

"People don't really know what it's like and if you've been there and you've rode that bus and you've been in the midst of these battles that these kids go through and the joys and the losses and the battles and a lot of them are living away from home and they're homesick. ... That's a bond you never lose with those guys."


The magnitude of this loss is unthinkable, he said.

"This is going to change their lives forever ... How do you get back on the bus?"

It won't just be the community of Humboldt in mourning but every single hometown across the west and every single player who played against the Broncos during the season.

"They battle every night but they're friends off the ice," he said. "These guys are broken."

But Merkley said eventually the game, like life, will go on.

"I don't know how else you can say it," he said.

"Unfortunately that's the harsh reality sometimes of life, we have to strap our boots on the next day.

"I know that community will rally because that's what Saskatchewan people do. It's something we do as a province because we pull together. But they're going to need a lot."

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend