Many died, several struggled in recovery and some hit the ice again.
The Humboldt Broncos hockey team, changed forever after a highway crash in April, has been chosen as Canada’s Newsmaker of the Year in 2018.
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team received 56 out of 129 votes from news editors surveyed by The Canadian Press across the country.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who went head to head with the Trump administration during NAFTA negotiations, ranked second with 33 votes. Ontario’s new premier, Doug Ford, came in third with 12 votes.
The Broncos crash, just edging out pot legalization, was also selected by editors as the most compelling news story of 2018.
“While not an individual newsmaker, as a team the Humboldt Broncos defined what it means to be Canadian,” wrote Dawn Walton, managing editor of CTV Calgary.
“No other story brought the country together as this.”
“Every player, every parent, every fan felt this one,” added Kennedy Gordon, managing editor of the Peterborough Examiner. “This story’s impact was felt across the country, not just for the tragedy itself, but in the way communities showed support for the team afterward.”
Sixteen players and staff were killed and 13 players were hurt when the team’s bus and a semi-truck crashed at a rural intersection April 6. The team was heading to a playoff game and many parents who were driving to Nipawin, Sask., for a matchup with the Hawks came across the devastating scene.
There was shock and heartache as news of the crash spread around the world. Many placed hockey sticks on their front porches as a visible sign of their grief.
Many also gave money. People from more than 80 countries donated over $15 million to a GoFundMe campaign.
Vigils and memorials were held across the country to honour those who died.
“The horrific crash involving the Humboldt players, coaches, trainer and radio broadcaster ignited the emotions of so many Canadians,” said Paul Harvey, editorial page editor of the Calgary Herald.
“It came out of nowhere on the back roads of the Prairies, but quickly inspired the wearing of green ribbons, the placement of hockey sticks on front porches and the donation of millions of dollars. It also raised serious issues about road safety, seatbelts and rehabilitation.
“However, above all else, it was the stories of the passengers on that ill-fated bus that drew us together as a country.”
Of the injured, two players were paralyzed and two received serious brain injuries. Stories of their recoveries have been inspiring, as have been the players who would lace up their skates again. A few stayed with the Broncos. Some moved on to other teams.
“Most Canadians, whether they live in small towns or urban areas, can identify with the passion and promise of young athletes chasing the Canadian dream: a career in hockey. The tragedy that befell the Humboldt Broncos became not just a Canadian story, but an international one,” said Lucinda Chodan, vice-president of editorial for Postmedia.
The team’s story touched people of all ages, regardless of their hometown, gender, income level and political affiliation, said Jeffrey Blond, deputy managing editor of the Montreal Gazette.
“The devastating crash was a tragedy with a uniquely Canadian angle, but stories of strength, support and empathy helped us come together as a nation,” he said.