Deadly Canadian junior hockey team bus crash hits home in WNY

Apr 7, 2018

For hockey parents, sending young players away to improve their skill is a normal occurrence. The last thing you would expect is for tragedy to strike off the ice, but now the hockey community in Western New York has been stunned by a fatal crash involving a Canadian team's bus.

Fifteen people died and others were injured when a large truck collided with a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team to a game. The fatalities included 10 players, two coaches, an intern, a play-by-play announcer and the bus driver, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

First thing for me was, I got really sad for the kids ... their parents who are thinking their kids are away playing junior hockey headed to the road game ... " Buffalo Jr. Sabres OJHL Head Coach Nick Tuzzolino told WBFO Saturday. "My second thought right away was, 'Wow, we're on the bus a lot.'"

The Broncos team, from the province of Saskatchewan, belongs to a league for players between the ages of 16 and 20.

Travel for youth hockey is a constant -- and often an afterthought in a long season. But the incident is something many hockey parents in Western New York can sympathize with, including Tuzzolino.

He played for Elmira’s ECHL team before moving onto pro hockey. On a trip to South Carolina as a young player, part of a team bus caught fire.

"These sleeper buses, you sleep eight up on each side," he said. "There's a lot of times it goes through your head ... 'If this thing tips over what position am I going to be in.'

"As a couple hours went down the road there was a smell of smoke out the back. With these types of buses there wasn't much storage underneath so we had a trailer ... that would pull equipment ... and one of the tires there ended up burning the rubber off and catching fire. So we had to pull over to a rest area."

The Broncos accident occurred near the city of Tisdale at 5 p.m. local time Friday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said. The Broncos were traveling to Nipawin for a playoff game that evening.

"There was probably a phone call in the morning saying, 'Hey mom, we're headed to so and so playing a game and I'll text you when we get there,' or something like that," Tuzzolino said. "Because that's how I was when I played.

The crash prompted a wide display of grieving and support in Canada, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted his support for Humboldt, NPR reported.

President Donald Trump said Saturday he spoke with Trudeau to "pay my highest respect and condolences to the families of the terrible Humboldt Team tragedy."

Many Canadians also may remember a 1986 crash involving youth hockey players outside Swift Current that killed four players.