TRURO, N.S. – Hockey sticks on porches pay silent tribute and the colours green and gold serve to remind us of heartache shared across a nation.
And more than most, Kelly Kolke understands.
“I was just devastated,” said Kolke, a former player with the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team that suffered unthinkable loss in a horrific highway accident Friday.
“I had a lot of pride in that organization, and truly loved the years I spent playing with the Broncos, but I immediately started thinking about the families and even the city itself. The team is so integral to the city and it always was. I just knew it was going to hit them hard.”
There were 15 people killed and 14 injured Friday in a collision between the Saskatchewan team’s bus and a tractor-trailer. The Broncos were heading to Nipawin, Sask., when the crash occurred at an intersection north of Tisdale, Sask.
Kolke was with the Broncos for four seasons, from 1982 to 1986. When he learned of last Friday’s tragedy, memories of his time in the small town began flooding back.
“The hockey community itself is a tight-knit community but Humboldt is much closer,” Kolke said.
“You’ve got a town that back then had 5,000 people and now has around 5,500, so it’s a very small town. You knew everybody’s truck when they drove around, and if you were a Bronco, you got recognized and talked to. Hearing the talk over the last couple of days, the team seems to have really got a lot more involved in the community, too.”
Kolke even dug out his old Broncos’ jerseys to display in the window of the Grant Thornton office on Prince Street in Truro, where he is a partner.
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The team, Kolke said, was seen as the heart of Humboldt during his playing days. So it wasn’t surprising to see the community come together the way it has, or to see such a universal response.
“It’s just amazing, the outpouring of support from within and outside the country,” said Kolke.
“When you have people in the United States recognizing this incident in Canada, and have the Queen commenting on it, it just shows what hockey means to people and to this country.”
Kolke was much-travelled in his playing days. From Humboldt, he went on to play university hockey with Acadia University. He was also a member of the 1998 Truro TSN Bearcats, who captured the Allan Cup senior championship.
After news broke of the accident, friends from Kolke’s university days reached out to check in and reminisce, rekindling memories of his own experiences on so many bus rides, particularly with the Broncos.
“We were fortunate, we never had a close call that we were aware of. We never had a flat tire or anything during that time, and we travelled through some major storms throughout Saskatchewan,” he said.
Kolke is confident junior hockey will eventually come away from this tragedy as strong as ever.
“It was an extremely unfortunate incident,” said Kolke.
“Saskatchewan and those boys will be remembered forever, and I think junior hockey will go on.
“Junior hockey is really the backbone of hockey. I think the country is engrained with it and there are too many positives that come with it.”