Hometown of Nipawin Hawks show outpouring of support for Humboldt Broncos after bus crash

Linus and Frances Olson were excited to watch the fifth playoff game in a series between their hometown junior hockey team, the Nipawin Hawks, and the Humboldt Broncos Friday night. The away team never made it.

Support, donations and prayers pouring in for Humboldt, Sask.

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

Linus and Frances Olson were excited to watch the fifth playoff game in a series between their hometown junior hockey team, the Nipawin Hawks, and the Humboldt Broncos Friday night.

Then, as they were getting ready to head to the game, their adult son walked into their home and told them he was one of the first people on the scene of a crash involving the Broncos' team bus and a truck.

The away team would never make it to Nipawin's Centennial Arena. 

"He was in shock," said Frances Olson on Saturday. The team was on its way to Game 5 of a semifinal against the Hawks when the crash occurred around 5 p.m. CST on Friday.

Signs in Nipawin, Sask., hung before Game 5 of a semifinal in between host team Nipawin Hawks and the Humboldt Broncos. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

The death toll from crash rose to 15 Saturday, a day after the tragedy. The bus, which was carrying 29 people including the driver, was involved in a collision with a semi-trailer about 30 kilometres north of Tisdale, Sask on Friday. 

Fourteen people were also injured in the crash. Some of them remain in critical condition. RCMP have released few details, saying traffic analysts continue to investigate potential causes, including road, weather, mechanical and driver conditions. 

Some of those injured aboard a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team Friday, April 6, 2018, were taken to Nipawin Hospital. (Kymber Rae Photography)

Outpouring of support in Nipawin

At the local Dairy Queen in Nipawin, owned by John Ukrainetz, there is a collection box for the GoFundMe page dedicated to the Humboldt Broncos. Everyone who walked by dropped something into the box.

John Ukrainetz, the owner of the Dairy Queen in Nipawin, Sask., started a fundraising campaign for people affected by the crash. (Omayra Issa/CBC)

Most weekend afternoons, Dairy Queen is busy. On Saturday, it was packed.

It makes hockey, even though it was an important game coming up, pretty insignificant- John  Ukrainetz ., owner of Dairy Queen in Nipawin , Sask.

"The weather hasn't been a topic of conversation," said Ukrainetz.

"It's all about what happened. It makes hockey, even though it was an important game coming up, pretty insignificant."

Members of the hockey community took to social media to send their condolences and offer support to the families of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. (Amanda Brochu)

'This can't be true'

The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team includes players originally from Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta.The 15 confirmed dead include a journalist, a young statistician, and coaching staff, as well as players. 

"My first reaction was this can't be true," said Dan Ukrainetz, who was to be the game's colour commentator.

"It's not supposed to happen. I was in a bit of disbelief and as I processed, I started to realize that these aren't adults. These are young boys, some of them still in high school."

Dan Ukrainetz was scheduled to be the Game 5 commentator on Friday night. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

The Nipawin Hawks, just young men themselves, are also reeling. The teams are said to be close.

Most of the team members and coaching staff met at the Centennial Arena early on Saturday to talk and to debrief. Their coach has requested privacy.

"There was a certain helpless feeling," said Dan Ukrainetz.

He worries for the first responders and support service workers, some of whom are from Nipawin.

"One day they're doing their job as a business owner in town, but at night they're out trying to save lives," he said.

Mayor sends support

Support, donations, and prayers are pouring in to Humboldt, including from the team's would-be opponents.

"Our prayers and heartfelt condolences are with the community of Humboldt and the players, families, and the entire hockey family," said Rennie Harper, mayor of Nipawin, in a statement.

"May you find strength in each other in this unimaginably tragic situation and know that you have our support today and in the weeks ahead."

A prayer service was held at a Nipawin church early Saturday morning. The community plans to hold a memorial on Sunday, while Humboldt families hold their own service at home.


Bridget Yard is a journalist and content creator based in the Greater Toronto Area. Originally from Schumacher, a small mining community in northern Ontario, she spent a decade pursuing a career in journalism close to home, then in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan with CBC.