Jeff Blay is a digital communications consultant in Toronto. He is a former journalist who covered sports in Alberta and Ontario, focusing on junior hockey.
Darcy Haugan was one of the first people I met in northern Alberta, when I left Ontario for my first reporting job in 2011. He left a lasting impact on me, his community and junior hockey: The man had a passion for the game – but also a passion for helping people.
I was the new kid, fresh off my internship and into my first real sports reporting gig. Darcy made it easy. He gave me the inside scoops, fed me stories about his players and league developments, and always had time to talk, whether about hockey or life in general. He knew I was a kid from Ontario who moved across the country to chase my dream.
Seven years later, he had become the head coach and general manager of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Humboldt Broncos, and was one of the first confirmed deaths in the horrific crash involving the team bus and a semi-trailer in rural Saskatchewan last Friday.
Back in 2011, Darcy immediately had made me feel at home, treated me like more than a reporter – like I was part of the team. In the two short years we worked together, he became a hockey coach, a mentor and a friend to me. And while he was at it, he won North West Junior Hockey League coach of the year for two straight seasons, leading the North Peace Navigators to nearly perfect seasons and deep playoff runs. He was a great coach and an even better person.
Darcy’s family owned the local Kal Tire in Peace River, Alta. When he wasn’t at the rink, you could find him there in his office – where hockey jerseys from past and present proudly hung on the walls – managing the family business with his father Leroy. One time my car broke down, so I brought it there to get repaired.
He had it done within a couple of hours – and insisted it was on the house. “Thanks for all the work you put in covering our team,” he told me. That’s a moment I’ll never forget. That’s the type of man he was.
That moment of thoughtfulness and generosity from him wasn’t rare. He was that man – even more so for his players, his coaching and training staff, his family and his community. He changed lives for many of his players and never hesitated to give them second chances. He put others first, always.
“I don’t think he blinked an eye when Ottawa called my name in the NHL draft,” said Darren Kramer, a Peace River native who played for Darcy Haugan in junior and was later drafted by the Ottawa Senators. “I’m even more certain he didn’t take any credit for it, even though it was due.”
Mr. Kramer, who currently plays with the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose and spent two seasons with the Western Hockey League’s Spokane Chiefs after playing under Darcy in Peace River, wrote a heartfelt Facebook post when he learned of his death.
“A soothing, gentle, kind man to be around,” Mr. Kramer wrote. “His presence would fill the room and his love for the game was undeniable.”
When Darcy left Peace River in 2015 to join the Humboldt Broncos, the decision wasn’t easy for him. He grew up in Peace River. His two sons, Carson and Jackson, did too. His parents lived there. He poured everything he had into the Navigators for more than a decade. But he also needed to challenge himself as a coach. Opportunity knocked with the Broncos.
His wife Christina, who works as the Broncos office manager, is from Saskatchewan. Darcy also spent time there during his own junior career with the Estevan Bruins. The move made sense for him and his family. And he deserved it.
But he didn’t deserve the fate he met that night on the way to a Game 5 playoff match-up with the Nipawin Hawks. No one on that bus did. Darcy should still be behind the bench, with his players and coaches at his side, doing what he does best: coaching hockey.
“Hockey has been a big part of my life for a long time. I love to compete and I love to win,” Darcy once told me. “There are some days where it takes everything you have to get to the rink and get going … once you get out there, you’re reminded why you’re doing it.”
Darcy died doing what he loved, surrounded by the people he dedicated his life to. Nothing will ever make up for it, and nothing can replace the hole he has left in the lives of those closest to him. But what is left behind, in all of those he touched, is his spirit and passion for the game, for coaching, for community.
And like Darcy Haugan was to me, and to so many people, that’s something larger than life.