'This world needs more people like Mark': Humboldt Broncos assistant coach remembered at funeral

Mark Cross was a ferocious competitor when he played hockey, but those who knew him say the assistant coach for the Humboldt Broncos had a calming presence on his players, teammates and friends.

Mark Cross, 27, was among 16 people killed when team bus collided with semi-truck

Brad Cross said he heard many positive tributes that came flooding in for his son Mark Cross, who died in the Humboldt Broncos' team bus crash. (CBC News)

While he was remembered as a ferocious hockey player, Mark Cross was also the "ultimate teammate" with a personality that drew people in, friends recalled at a Saturday funeral for the assistant coach for the Humboldt Broncos. 

"He had such a spice for life; it was kind of infectious," recalled friend Chad Hohmann. "He was just a person that everyone got along with... you always had fun with Mark."

Hohmann said he wasn't surprised to see the outpouring of love and support for his former York University hockey teammate, or that so many people came from across the country for Cross' funeral in his hometown of Strasbourg, Sask. For Hohmann, it's a testament to the character of his friend.

"He was just an amazing person, who touched so many lives. Wherever he went, he made an impact — if you knew Mark for a day or years, it was the same. You just fell in love with him right away."

Cross, who was 27, was one of 16 people who died as a result of the April 6 collision between the Humboldt Broncos team's bus and a semi-truck. 

As a hockey team player, and later in a coaching role, Mark Cross was remembered as dedicated to always doing the best job possible. (CBC News)

Making an impact

Cross played as a forward on the York Lions men's hockey team from 2011 until 2016 when he graduated with a degree in kinesiology and health science. 

"Mark was an exceptional young man, an assistant captain during his time at York and the team MVP in his fifth and final season," said Russ Herrington, who was one of Cross's assistant coaches. "He was a ferocious competitor who had a vibrant approach to life.

"There was no one in the room who commanded more respect than Mark."

He returned to Saskatchewan after university, with his longtime girlfriend Molly Schnell, and worked for a season as an assistant coach with a midget team near Regina, before joining the Broncos for the 2017-18 season.

The signs of mourning were everywhere in the small community of Strasbourg, Sask. on Saturday, with Humboldt Broncos stickers, hockey sticks and jerseys seen everywhere in memory of hometown boy Mark Cross, and the other victims of the April 6 Humboldt Broncos' team bus crash. (CBC News)

On the day of his funeral, Cross's father recalled his son's humility, saying that Cross won the MVP award while away at school in Toronto, but never even mentioned it to his family until two weeks later. 

That anecdote didn't surprise Cross' friend, Christopher Neurauter.

"He was a team-first player," said Neurauter, who played with Cross in their days as teenagers with the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. "He was the heart and soul of our team in Estevan."

Hockey was a huge part of Mark Cross's life, and hockey sticks featured prominently at the Saturday funeral for the 27-year-old, who was among the 16 that died following the April 6 Humboldt Broncos' team bus crash. (CBC News)

Like other players, Neurauter found himself drawn to Cross, whom he described as the "ultimate teammate" for his leadership, his personality, hockey skills and work ethic.

"I looked up to Mark a lot, not only as a hockey player but as a person," he said. 

Coming to the funeral gave him the chance to tell Cross's parents again what an amazing job they did of raising a man who made an impact among so many throughout his young life, said Neurauter.

"This world needs more people like Mark."

with files from The Canadian Press and the CBC's Olivia Stefanovich