'We can't change the past': Humboldt Broncos healing emotional wounds through positivity — and football

A crowd of hundreds gathered to honour those affected by the Humboldt Broncos tragedy with a truly Saskatchewan-themed tribute — a public practice with the province’s beloved Roughriders football team.

Hundreds turn out as Saskatchewan Roughriders honour community shaken by bus crash tragedy

Humboldt Broncos player and crash survivor Kaleb Dahlgren obliges autograph requests from a group of young fans. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

Humboldt Broncos bus crash survivor Kaleb Dahlgren says he turns to his surviving teammates when he is having a tough day or reliving painful memories.

The survivors have an online chat group where they look to each other for support.

"I remember one day, we were having a good chat in our group chat and some guys were like, 'Yeah, we're having some issues here and I am really missing the guys,'" said Dahlgren.

"And we all agree, like, we are missing the guys, but we can't change the past and you've just got to keep on moving forward for the future and live our lives for the people we lost on that bus."

Roughriders helping Humboldt heal

Dahlgren was part of a crowd of hundreds who gathered at a local park to see the Saskatchewan Roughriders hold a public practice in Humboldt, Sask., on Sunday.

Sixteen people died in a collision between the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus and a semi-trailer on April 6. The crash happened north of Tisdale, Sask. — which is 195 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon — when the team was travelling to a playoff game against the Nipawin Hawks.

The Roughriders held their team practice in Humboldt, Sask. on Sunday, honouring those affected by the tragic Broncos team bus crash that killed 16 people. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

Dahlgren was one of the survivors. Now that his bones have healed, he is more focused on his emotional health.

Dahlgren believes positive support, like that fostered by Sunday's event, is the only way he and others affected by the tragedy can begin to heal.

He is also encouraged by the fact that the team is beginning to rebuild, with the Broncos having drafted a number of hockey players and started the process to replace the late Darcy Haugan as general manager and head coach.

"I think if I would have passed away I would have wanted the Broncos to continue so I'm sure everybody that did would have wanted this to happen," said Dahlgren. 

'Really critical that our Broncos are here'

Humboldt Broncos president Kevin Garinger told reporters at the Riders event that healing is precisely why the Riders event was needed.

He added that rebuilding the team is essential to the healing process in Humboldt.

"We've recognized that it's really, really critical that our Broncos are here in this community," said Garinger.

"This community relies on them and will rely on them to continue to heal."

Family members of people killed in the crash were among those on the sidelines at the event, where Roughriders executives helped cook burgers for the community barbecue.

Paul Leray lost his grandson, 19-year-old Jacob Leicht, in the crash.

"Unfortunately he was one of the victims in the bus crash and we miss him very much," said Leray.
Jacob Leicht's grandfather Paul Leray said Sunday's event was a good way to support the community as it begins to heal. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC News)

"Having not only the Roughriders but all of the support of the community and province-wide, and worldwide actually, it certainly helps to cope with losing a grandson and losing all 16 people in that tragedy."

The CFL team also used the opportunity to announce its June 30 home game against the Montreal Alouettes will be themed in honour of the Humboldt Broncos.

Player Brendon LaBatte told reporters the game will be meaningful for his team.

"To be able to go out onto that field and play for a bigger purpose than just football," LaBatte said. "I mean, that's huge, to be able to go out and play for people who have lost [loved ones] and they're hurting so bad."

Players helped Special Olympics team

Humboldt resident Brian Reifferscheid, a Special Olympics coach, got to know three of the Broncos through the work they did to support the competitors in floor hockey.

Among them was Logan Boulet, one of the players killed in the crash.

On Sunday, Reifferscheid and his wife Brenda were preparing to meet Boulet's parents for the first time.

They planned to meet at the event because Boulet is being honoured with an award for the work that he and the other players did with the Special Olympics competitors.

"For them, I guess getting to know the things that their son was involved with in the community was important to them," said Reifferscheid. "Logan had talked about what the floor hockey Monday nights meant to him and how much fun it was to him."
As part of its show of support, the Saskatchewan Roughriders also held a special practice in Humboldt earlier this month, signing autographs and flipping burgers for community members. (Alicia Bridges/CBC News)

Reifferscheid said Boulet was "just a gem of a guy," adding that all of the Special Olympics athletes went to the Broncos games so they got to know each other very well.

He believes Sunday's community event was a great way to help Humboldt heal.

"I guess you never forget and none of us ever will forget and for all the families that are grieving of the losses it's going to take a long time," said Reifferscheid.

"But time heals."

Kaleb Dahlgren says he has tremendous support from family, friends and team mates who survived the Humboldt Broncos team bus crash in April. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC News)