April 6, 2018 will forever be a nightmare in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. A day that took the lives of 16 people in a tragic bus accident involving the Humboldt Broncos, a junior hockey team traveling to a playoff game. On that same day, 1000 miles to the southeast, the Green Bay Gamblers were also on a bus trip returning from a win over the Madison Capitals when they heard the news.
"It was just heartbreaking for me," Gamblers forward Josh Dunne said. "Playing juniors, anyone can attest to it, you are on the bus. That's your livelihood. You're with all the guys, that's some of your best bonding with the team."
"It was the quietest bus ride I've ever been on, especially after a win," Gamblers head coach Pat Mikesch said.
The news hit close to home for coach Pat Mikesch who's son, Austin, plays junior hockey in Canada for the Nipawin Hawks, the same team Humboldt was traveling to face the day of the accident.
"Right away I knew Austin was safe because they weren't the ones traveling that day but I still didn't realize how devastating it was," Mikesch said. "it was too much."
"There's guys on my team that have best friends on that team," Austin Mikesch said. "At first I didn't want to believe what I heard. I wanted to push it out and just think that it didn't happen."
"At first talking to him, he was actually with the Humboldt families as they were waiting to hear on their loved ones," Pat noted.
"We wanted to support them as much as we could," Austin added. "Whatever they needed to help them out just in that moment."
As news of the tragedy began to spread, the hockey community did the only thing it could; heal.
From the NHL, to right here in Green Bay, teams held tributes before their games. A GoFundMe page was set up for the victims and their families, which raised over 10 million dollars in less than a week (including donations from the Gamblers). An outpouring of support flooded social media, and players around the world began leaving their sticks outside their front door, just in case the Humboldt boys needed one.
"We have a bunch of sticks outside my billet house right now and as I'm driving down the road, I just see sticks outside of every single house," Austin said with a smile."
— Cam Talbot (@ctalbot33) April 10, 2018
Austin and his teammates are playing hockey again, but they aren't doing it alone.
We're playing for them," Austin said. "The guys that went to the hospital that talked to some of the injured guys over there, they said that they want us to play. Play for the staff and players that didn't make it."
Tragedy hit hard on April 6, 2018 but it also learned a valuable lesson; hockey players are tough, and no matter how great the disaster, you simply cannot break the spirit, the bond and the brotherhood that is forever frozen into this sport.
It's something that "I'll always remember, just seeing how much support there was," Pat Mikesch said. "It kind of brings you that moment of reflection where, let's be really thankful for everything we have in front of us here today."
"Hockey is the best remedy for all of this," Austin added. "I think they'll be watching over us the entire time."
In hockey, tragedy can strike, it can hurt, and it can devastate, but it can not destroy.