This blog post first appeared on Melissa’s blog infindingmyself.wordpress.com
Re-published with permission.
Elgar Petersen Arena; Photo courtesy of Katherine Siebert
A country grieves tonight, for we have lost a piece of our heart, our brothers-on-ice, and tonight the whole world feels our loss….
Being Canadian can mean many things, and we often hear the stereotypes with a slight chuckle: maple syrup, saying “I’m sorry”, our love of beer, “eh”, Mounties in red, and the list goes on.
But if there’s one thing we know, one thing that brings us all together in the true, cold north – it’s our hockey.
I didn’t play hockey growing up, as our small town didn’t offer teams for girls at the time, but I sure remember Saturday nights. Every week during hockey season, without fail, our TV would be turned to CBC and Hockey Night in Canada would fill our house. My dad, an avid hockey player during his youth in Asquith, was still a huge fan of the game. I never got to see him play, but he still had his skates, and the photos, as he spoke with pride of his team’s wins and losses. He loved the game. So he would watch, commenting on the suits & passion of Don Cherry, and hoping upon hope that our beloved Oilers would finally win the cup.
Later, during a teaching internship in a town of 300, I realized what small town hockey truly symbolized; what the arena and the team truly meant. The arena was the town – it’s heartbeat, it’s identity, it’s hub. Even more so than the small churches in town, the rink was where everyone truly came together – to watch, to play, to serve fries in the canteen, to curl, and to visit. If there was a place to come and find out what was going on, it happened at the rink. If you wanted to be a part of things, a part of the heart of the town, you came to the games. You cheered. You wore the jersey. And you loved hockey.
Then, some years later, I had my son – and he wanted to play. Oh how he wanted to play. His dad, a former WHL goalie, had the pads and helmets, and told him stories of the places he had seen, the games he had played, and the towns he had traveled to, houses he had billeted in; it formed a majority of his teenage years. And now my son wanted to follow in these foot steps. That maybe he could play in the “Dub”, and maybe, like his beloved Flames, play with the big boys.
Hockey is a dream for Canadians, a hope of every little boy (and girl now) to reach for the stars – to be in the big arena, hear the cheers of the crowd, and to make it. For many, it’s the biggest part of their development as kids: the friendships they make with their team mates, the mentoring they receive from the many coaches, the life lessons they learn from the wins (and more so the losses), the tournaments they get to be a part of, the towns they get to travel to, and the experience they receive from their pursuit of the dream. It’s often the place they, and their parents, spend the most time together, and in community.
When my son was able to meet the captain of our local WHL Blades, to get a photo, and then send him his congratulations when he learned of his recent ECHL signing, it reignited that fire. He’d seen a hero – someone he wanted to be like when he grew up. The dream was alive – that maybe hockey could be his future too. As his mom, I want that for him. I hold that dream with him.
Because you see, in Canada, we all have hockey in our veins – we have all been in that rink, cheered on that child, coached that team, worked in that arena, watched that game, and wore that jersey. We are hockey. If we haven’t played the game, we’ve watched the game, or known someone who did, and really, when you break it all down, we are all hockey.
So when I woke yesterday morning, as millions did across the world, and read the tragic posts of the young men, coaches, reporter and driver of the Humboldt Broncos who perished near Nipawin, my heart broke. For the wives whose husbands won’t come home. For the parents whose child went to play a game and won’t come home. For the friends who lost someone. For the first responders who witnessed something they will never forget. For the pastors, teachers and community leaders who will be called upon in the coming days, weeks and months to offer answers, comfort, and hope. For the town in mourning. For the knowledge that in a few years, that could be my son, on a team bus, travelling to some small town, holding all his hopes and dreams in that next shut out – that next chance to put on his pads and play the game.
As a parent, as a fan of the game, and as a Canadian, I grieve with the town of Humboldt. I shake my head in disbelief at the incredible tragedy and loss that will forever change the DNA of this town. I pray for all of the families mourning a loss. And I realize the wide-reaching effects of this tragedy not just across our great country, but the world. There are no easy answers, no quick fixes, no words to make this pain feel somehow less palatable. But as a community, as a hockey family, as a nation, we will be looking for them.
As I watched Don Cherry and the hockey games last night, and sit with my husband to watch tonight’s vigils – seeing opposing coaches cry together, opposing teams stand in solidarity with Broncos jerseys, a town in mourning, moments of silence both here and with our neighbours to the south, I realize something else about this game.
It’s going to help us heal. Help us come together. Remind us that we aren’t really a country of isolated provinces, languages, and cultures, but a family – human beings united in our love of the game.
That regardless of what might be going on in our politics, our economy, or own our individual lives, that we will wrap our arms around this town, their families, and the team – with every help, support, prayer, and act of love we can – because we are all Humboldt. We are all “small town”. We are all hockey. We are all, Canadian.
Click here to go to the GoFundMe page set up for the families of those affected by this tragedy.