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Rangers, Islanders reflect on tragic bus crash

A memorial at the stairs that lead to

A memorial at the stairs that lead to Elgar Petersen Arena is shown in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, on Saturday. Credit: The Canadian Press via AP / Liam Richards

The NHL, Canada and the world reacted Saturday to the crash Friday night in Saskatchewan that killed 15 people on a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos, a team in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

According to the latest reports, seven players, the head coach/GM, assistant coach, a radio broadcaster and team statistician were among the dead, and many of the survivors suffered severe injuries.

For the Rangers coaching staff, the accident brought back painful and personal memories of another bus crash that killed four junior hockey players in December 1986. One of the players killed in that crash was 16-year-old Brent Ruff, the younger brother of Lindy Ruff, now an assistant on the Rangers’ coaching staff.

“We were talking about it quite a bit before the game, because Lindy lost his brother,’’ Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said after the Rangers’ 5-0 loss to the Flyers in Philadelphia. “Anybody that’s played in team sports in anything, you get to games in a bus. And to hear something like that, it’s just a big tragedy.’’

Several Islanders with roots in Western Canada were touched by the Humboldt bus crash, as well.

Jordan Eberle is from Regina, Saskatchewan, and played for the Regina Pats of Western Hockey League.

“It’s devastating really,’’ Eberle said. “I have a lot of ties to Saskatchewan and a lot of ties to Saskatchewan hockey and it’s a terrible day. From my personal experience, I rode the bus all over Western Canada playing hockey. I know what that’s like. My brother [Dustin, 25] played for the Melville [Millionaires, which also plays in the SJHL]. It’s just a sad day. It’s something that shouldn’t happen.’’

“Some of my best memories are on the bus in juniors,’’ said Islanders rookie Mathew Barzal, who is from Coquitlam, British Columbia, and who played in the WHL for Seattle. “To see that, I can’t imagine ever going through something like that.

“You can say as much as you want, do as much as you want, you can never bring back anybody,’’ he continued. “My thoughts and I’m sure the rest of the hockey world’s thoughts go out to those kids.’’

Twenty-nine people were on the bus, which was carrying the Broncos to their SJHL playoff game against the Nipawin Hawks. Fourteen died Friday night and another died Saturday. Police had not identified the dead, but the Saskatoon StarPhoenix newspaper reported that the team’s head coach, Darcy Haugan, was among the dead, as were seven players, including captain Logan Schatz, 20.

The crash happened at about 5 p.m. Central Time on Highway 35, about halfway into the Broncos’ trip to Nipawin, when the bus was hit by a semi tractor trailer. According to the StarPhoenix, the driver of the semi, who was the only occupant of that vehicle, was unharmed in the accident. He was questioned by police, but not charged.

Dr. Hassan McMasri, who treated some of the survivors at the crash scene, posted a message on Facebook describing what he saw.

“Last night can only be described as the longest, worst and most tragic night of my career,’’ McMasri wrote. “The images can’t be unseen or forgotten, the stories can’t be unheard or ignored. Meeting each family and explaining the extent of each injury was nothing short of a painful exercise of cruelty. Families waiting for hours to identify their loved ones and smiling of joy at the idea of a significant injury as long as it meant that their loved one was alive brought chills to my spine.’’

Some of the injured were reported to have injuries that may leave them paralyzed.

“Our community is in utter shock and we are trying our best to come to grips with this unimaginable tragedy,” Broncos president Kevin Garinger said Saturday morning.

The team website featured only the team’s logo and a silhouette of what appears to be a young man kneeling and bowing his head in prayer.

People in the hockey world expressed their grief and support on social media, and President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences. In Philadelphia, where the Rangers closed out the season against the Flyers, there was a moment of silence before the singing of “God Bless America’’ prior to the faceoff.

The Islanders have had early discussions on doing something for Humboldt as a group but haven’t completed any plans.

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