By: Topher Scott

Best friends. Thousands of miles. Great stories. Incredible bonds. UNBELIEVABLE times.

Poker tournaments ending with someone throwing their cards and screaming obscenities while the rest of the boys howl with laughter.  A victory song blaring after a big win.  Euchre games lasting late into the night.  Bonds that are formed forever.

That is the junior hockey bus.

It’s been a year since the tragic accident that took the lives of numerous players, coaches, and staff of the Humboldt Broncos.  I watched the E:60 documentary yesterday and it shook me to my core.  Even a year later, I can still remember hearing the news and feeling such a loss and heartache for the families and city of Humboldt.

All those kids with so much life still ahead of them.  All the support staff and coaches with families and endless more to give.  A town left to grieve and pick up the pieces.

It was such a terrible thing to happen to so many good people, and it made a lot of us reflect because at one point…we were them.  Chasing the dream down endless highways, country roads, and sleepless nights.  Chasing the dream with guys we’d forever call best friends.

There’s something sacred about a junior hockey bus trip.

For many kids, it’s the first time traveling away from mom and dad and it comes with a unique sense of freedom.  It’s where they can be that goofy teenage kid and be easily accepted because all the other guys are goofy teenage kids as well.

It’s where you learn to deftly maneuver around sleeping bodies by stepping over and crouching under teammates as you try and get back to the bathroom.  For us short guys, it’s no easy task.

It’s the excitement when your favorite housing parent or booster makes a huge batch of cookies for the boys to devour on the bus.  Or trying to eat a to-go pasta with a flimsy plastic fork, a drenched sub, or a slice of pizza while the bus driver fails to avoid every pothole on the road ahead.

It’s staring out the window into the prairies or fields late at night when you can’t fall asleep and get lost in your thoughts, worries, or dreams.  Or searching to find that perfect position (there isn’t one) to fall asleep between or below the seats.

It’s that gigantic stretch when you realize you’ve made it to your destination after a long, long trip.  And oh how good that feels.

It’s the coach throwing the game you just lost on the TV and rewinding every little mistake while you pray he skips past the ones you remember making.  And the complete silence and darkness for the rest of that trip as he sends the message that losing is not acceptable.

For us, it was without smartphones.  So all we had to pass the time was doing things together.  For all the kids out there…don’t miss out on those connections by burying your head in your phone.

But the thing I most remember about the bus was finally pulling into the away arena a few hours before the game…and that initial excitement of getting ready for battle.

It was knowing your routine was about to start as you got up, stretched your big stretch, and walked down the stairs of the bus into the frigidly cold air.  It was entering the arena and smelling that familiar rink smell.  And recognizing the ushers and rink workers you amazingly remember from the last time you played there.

These kids on that bus to Nipawin.  They were so close to their destination.  So close to experiencing that high of getting ready for battle…together.  The kind of battle that only playoff hockey can give you…and is so much fun because of the camaraderie and bonds that are built on that very bus.

I still can’t shake the sadness when I think about it.  I would imagine none of us can.

But even though it has been a year since that horrific accident, a tragedy that shook the hockey world…that team and that town still remain an inspiration for the good of what hockey is all about.

I still see #HumboldtStrong stickers on the helmets of kids living halfway across the continent in Upstate NY…thousands of miles away.  I remember the GoFundMe page and the millions of dollars raised by hockey communities around the world.  I saw how the hockey world came together to take care of their own.

We all left a stick out on our front porch for the boys, in case they needed one up in heaven.

The game of hockey is uniquely special in its ability to come together during times of hardship.  When one of us gets knocked down, there are always hands to pick us up.

To all of the people affected by that horrific crash…we are all still here for you.  We mourn for your losses and continue to have your back as you lead on.  Hopefully the strength of our hockey community can continue to provide you strength during your difficult times.