'We aren't built to not get attached': Billet mom says love for 3 young players continues after 2 deaths

For the first time in a long time, Rene Cannon and her family will be coming home to an empty basement, devoid of the sounds of kids playing xBox and rowdy games of mini-sticks, after the death of two of her billet sons.

Rene Cannon and her family hosted Humboldt Broncos players Xavier Labelle, Adam Herold and Logan Hunter

Adam Herold and Logan Hunter were two hockey players that lost their lives in Friday night's Humboldt Broncos' team bus crash. Their billet mom, Rene Cannon, said her two daughters, Abbie and Tessa, are grappling with the loss of young men who were like older brothers to them. Xavier Labelle was initially announced as dead by the coroner. In fact, Labelle survived the crash. (Submitted by Rene Cannon)

UPDATE: Saskatchewan's Ministry of Justice issued a statement on Monday morning which said that Xavier Labelle, one of the players first reported to have died in Friday's incident, is in fact still alive. Labelle had been misidentified. Parker Tobin is among those who died, not Xavier Labelle.

On Wednesday, Dayna Brons died, bringing the death toll to 16. Read the latest here.


For the first time in a long time, Rene Cannon and her family will be coming home to an empty basement, devoid of the sounds of kids playing xBox and rowdy games of mini-sticks.

She's steeling herself for those moments, and for guiding her young daughters through the loss of two young men who were like older brothers to them.

"I'm not sure how to help them handle this grief but we're going to do the best we can," she said through tears.

The Crazy Cannon Clan, as her family calls themselves, have been been billeting players with the Humboldt Broncos for the past five years, an experience she calls unlike any other.

"We aren't built to not get attached. We take every single boy that's ever come into our house right into our hearts and into our family," she said. "They're children of our heart from the moment they walk in our door. We don't just feed them and house them, we care about them."

Her last three billet sons, as she calls them, were Xavier Labelle, 18, Logan Hunter, 18 and Adam Herold, 16. Hunter and Herold were among the 15 people with the junior hockey team who did not survive the team bus crash on Friday night. Originally, the RCMP said Labelle was among those who died.

On Monday, the RCMP and the province's Ministry of Justice issued a statement stating that was a mistake and Xavier Labelle is still alive. The ministry said the Office of the Chief Coroner is apologizing for the misidentification. 

It's something Cannon says she can't begin to comprehend.

Xavier Labelle and Logan Hunter took on the role of older brothers to billet sisters, Abbie and Tessa Cannon. (Submitted by Rene Cannon)

On Thursday night, she thought the worst thing that might happen was that the team would lose its semifinal playoff series against the Nipawin Hawks.

It never occurred to her that they could lose so much more, when the Broncos' team bus and a semi collided on the intersection of Highway 35 and 335 on a crisp and clear Friday night, 30 kilometres away from their destination of Nipawin.  

"We feel like our hearts have been splintered. There are three people in our lives we will never get to hold and hug and tell them to go kick some butt on the ice ever again."

Parker Tobin

Goaltender Parker Tobin is one of the players killed in the crash. 

Tobin, from Stony Plain, Alta., was misidentified as one of the survivors of the crash. 

Xavier Labelle

The first word that came to Cannon's mind when describing Labelle, who is still alive, was "mischievous," as she recalled he was always ready to taunt and tease her two daughters, aged 13 and 10.

"He made us laugh all the time," she said.

Labelle joined his billet family two years ago, and at 16, was the youngest player the family had ever hosted. While she felt more responsibility for him for that reason, the young defenceman managed himself well, she said.

"He just had a million things going for him," she said, noting he juggled hockey with studying and achieving high marks.

"And he did every single bit of it with a goofy grin on his face."

Rene Cannon, billet mom, described hockey player Xavier Labelle as "mischievous," recalling he was always ready to offer friendly teasing to her two young daughters, aged 10 and 13. (Submitted by Rene Cannon)

Logan Hunter

Hunter, at 18, was the youngest of his own family, the baby of a family that included two older sisters and step-siblings, she said.

"But he took to the role of older brother in the most amazing way with our two girls," she said, recalling he was always ready to ask the girls if they wanted to play a round of mini-sticks or other games.

"He had this smirk about him most of the time that might have made you think he wa s a little bit cocky, but he was truly this kind soul that lay down on the floor and spent time with our puppies."

Hunter had finished Grade 12, but was working to upgrade his marks, and had taken his college entrance exams, with Cannon saying she and her husband were "incredibly proud" of how well he did.

"He was just as special as every kid we've had."

When he was named the Player of the Game for the first time, Humboldt Broncos' player Logan Hunter took the time to give the autographed stick to his billet sister Tessa Cannon. (Submitted photo)

Adam Herold

Herold was from a farm family, and had grown up in Montmartre, Sask. The 16-year-old was called up from the Regina Pat Canadians to play as an affiliate for the Broncos, and had only been staying with the family for a few weeks.

But once he arrived, Cannon was glad he had joined them.

"He fit right into what we called the Crazy Cannon clan immediately," she said, recalling watching him take over the living room to play video games, play board games with his girls, or spend late nights working on his online classes for his Grade 11 studies.

Billeting never a cause of regret

When they first started billeting, Cannon was scared of how things might go. But within 48 hours, she adored her first 'son', who brought a special dynamic to her home.

"Every single boy that's walked through our doors is someone's child leaving home for the first time that needs a place to land, and someone to prop them up and help them realize as much of their hockey dreams as they possibly can," she said.

Billeting families are like their own special club, said Cannon, and those who are part of it understand what it means. Other billet families across the country have reached out to Cannon, while her past billet sons have been there too, sharing both in the grief and with words of support for each other.

"We're holding it together by being with their families and hugging their moms and their dads and their siblings," she said of the Labelle, Herold and Hunter families.

Billet families are there for meaningful moments, whether it's helping kids through tough losses or celebrating happier moments, says billet mom Rene Cannon, who says her family shared a lot of happy times with their billet sons, Logan Hunter and Xavier Labelle. Hunter was killed in Friday's incident. (Submitted by Rene Cannon)

In the experience of billeting, young men change and evolve, becoming more mature than when they first stepped out on their own, she said.

"It's not something I have ever, ever regretted, and it's still not something I regret, despite this being by far the hardest day I remember in my lifetime."

No matter the events of Friday night, she said she wouldn't do anything differently, for the bond forged with every billet son and the love that persists even after the young men's deaths.

"We love them from the second they walk in to the moment they go, and afterwards, for as long as we are able to."

Corrections

  • The original version of this article stated that Xavier Labelle was among those killed in Friday's incident. Saskatchewan's Office of the Chief Coroner misidentified Labelle was one of the victims. He is still alive. Parker Tobin, not Xavier Labelle, was among those killed.
    Apr 09, 2018 7:28 AM CT