Toledo Walleye players and coaches did not have any time to process the unthinkable tragedy of the Humboldt bus crash earlier this month.
Just hours after the accident involving the Humboldt junior hockey team occurred April 6 in rural Saskatchewan, the Walleye boarded their own charter bus and headed to Indianapolis.
More than two weeks later, the magnitude of the devastating crash that took the lives of 16 people and sent the tight-knit hockey community reeling still might not have fully sunk in.
Walleye equipment manager Dave Aleo decided a small gesture could show the organization's support. Aleo ordered a few dozen decals that feature the Humboldt Broncos logo. The stickers were placed on the back of the helmets worn by every Walleye player.
“I've done almost 2,000 hockey games and I've spent a lot of time on the bus,” Aleo said. “So it just really hit home for me. It happened on a Friday and what did we do on that Saturday? We got on a bus and drove to Indianapolis.”
A memorial at the stairs that lead to Elgar Petersen Arena is shown in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, on April 7.
THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge
As the heartbreaking details emerged, the worldwide hockey community rallied, including the Walleye coaches and staff. They have all been on countless similar bus trips, including several lengthy road tours this season.
“There have been a million bus rides,” Aleo said, his voice trailing off.
The Broncos, a junior team based in Saskatchewan, were traveling to a playoff game when a semi tractor-trailer collided with the coach bus. The tragedy claimed 10 players between the ages of 16 and 21. The team's head coach, broadcaster, and athletic therapist also were killed. More than a dozen others also were injured.
“I've been on the bus so many times,” Aleo said. “I've read almost every story of these kids and the survivors and what they've done. It really hit me hard.”
The Walleye organization held a moment of silence in honor of the crash victims before its April 13 first-round home playoff game against Indy. The team also raised $6,040 through a jersey auction that night, and upped its total donation to the Broncos to $10,000 through the Walleye Wishing Well charity fund.
Toledo coach Dan Watson said the tragedy hit home because the bus often is looked upon in the sport as a safe haven, a place to rest and build camaraderie.
“The best part of being on a team is traveling. We spend a lot of time on the road and on the bus with overnights, so for that to happen is an absolute tragedy,” Watson said. “It's one of those things you don't ever want to hear.”
Watson said he has not been surprised at the outpouring of support from the hockey community, including the stickers the Walleye players are wearing.
“We can't even begin to imagine what they are going through,” Watson said. “So anything we can do to show our support we will try to do. The tragedy obviously hits close to home with the amount of travel and bus time we have. The hockey community is extremely tight.”
Aleo said he first saw the decals on the helmets of NHL teams.
“I thought it was something I really wanted to do,” Aleo said.
The longtime equipment manager has worked at every level of the sport, including junior hockey and the NHL.
“We love being on the bus together,” Aleo said. “That's where we sit and we laugh. We watch TV and movies together. We get to know each other personally. That is where we bond. The bus is an important part.”
A Humboldt native created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the families, and it generated more than $15 million before its conclusion. It is the second-largest campaign in the history of the fund-raising website.
Others in the hockey community have left sticks outside their front doors to show solidarity.
“I saw young players in Switzerland going to the Canadian embassy with their jerseys on and putting flowers out for those boys,” Aleo said. “That's unbelievable. It has reached all over the world.”
REST UP: The Walleye open up the Central Division final series against rival Fort Wayne at 7:35 p.m. Saturday at the Huntington Center.
Toledo earned eight full days of rest by sweeping Indy in a Central Division semifinal series with a 3-2 win in double overtime Thursday in Indianapolis. It was the first sweep in team history.
“You want to close out a team as quick as you can and give them no momentum,” Watson said. “Our schedule has been very good to us as of late.”
The Komets, who wrapped up their first-round series Sunday, will have five days of rest before coming to Toledo for the first two games of the series. Fort Wayne eliminated Cincinnati 4-1.
Guidelines: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent. Comments that violate these standards, or our privacy statement or visitor's agreement, are subject to being removed and commenters are subject to being banned. To post comments, you must be a registered user on toledoblade.com. To find out more, please visit the FAQ.