Leafs coach Mike Babcock chokes back tears discussing Saskatchewan bus crash

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock was uncharacteristically emotional as he discussed the fatal crash of a bus carrying a Saskatchewan junior hockey team on Friday evening.

'We pray for those families and we're thinking about them,' the Leafs coach said Saturday

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock fought back tears at various points during a news conference on Saturday. (CBC)

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock was uncharacteristically emotional as he discussed the fatal crash of a bus carrying a Saskatchewan junior hockey team on Friday evening. 

"I prepared to talk to you guys, so I wouldn't get emotional," a teary-eyed Babcock told reporters after the team's morning skate on Saturday. Babcock was born in Ontario but grew up in Saskatoon. 

"I grew up right there in Saskatoon, it's just down the road ... I can't even imagine being the parent, or the wife or the kids at home, going through something like this," he continued, stopping occasionally to regain his composure. 

Fourteen people were killed in the collision between a coach bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos, a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team, and a transport truck. The team was on its way to Nipawin, Sask., for a playoff game.

According to RCMP, 29 people were on board at the time of the crash, including the driver. Fourteen people were injured, three critically, police said Saturday.

"I know that road pretty good," Babcock said of Highway 35, not far from where he grew up. He added that he spoke with a friend of his, "a fireman in Saskatoon," who had coached some of the Broncos players in the past. 

"It's got to rip the heart out of your chest. We pray for those families and we're thinking about them. I don't know what else to say. Horrific, horrific accident. Tough day," said the resolute coach known for steely-eyed deference.

The collision marks the second time a Saskatchewan team with the name "Broncos" was involved in a fatal highway crash.

In December 1986, four members of the Swift Current Broncos, of the Western Hockey League, were killed when the team's driver lost control and the bus flipped on an icy road. 

Leafs forward Patrick Marleau was raised in Swift Current, and he said that Friday's collision will stir difficult memories in the prairie province.

"It was something you remember," Marleau, who was seven when the initial crash occurred, told reporters. "You see players wearing the logo on their jerseys for the players that were lost and it definitely hits home. Growing up around Swift Current it was always in people's minds," he explained.

Marleau said that travelling on buses is part of life in junior hockey, and that long hours spent on the road offer a chance for players to bond and form lasting friendships. In a hockey-obsessed province, he added, this tragedy will reach far beyond Humboldt.

"In Saskatchewan, every community is fairly small, so everybody knows everybody. They try to look out for each other and care for each other. It's very tight knit."

There are 24 members of the Humboldt Broncos, with members of the team ranging in age from 16 to 21. (Humboldt Broncos/Twitter)