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It’s the most Canadian of tragedies: A bus carrying a Junior hockey team is T-boned by a semi-trailer on a northern Saskatchewan highway. At least 15 people are killed, and almost as many are injured.

Most of the dead are young men of 18 to 21. A soldier’s age. Their young lives ended in their prime on their way to play the rugged game that defines us.

It’s a disaster that resonates with so many Canadians, from the parent who drives her child to the rink on a snowy morning, to the NHL player who fondly remembers his amateur days on the bus with his teammates, all of them thinking about the next game, but also dreaming of the next level as the kilometres roll by. Maybe a hockey scholarship to a university. Maybe a shot at the pros.

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Read more: Death toll increases to 15 after Humboldt Broncos bus crash leaves country in grief, shock

For people in the Prairies, this disaster is especially painful. The Humboldt Broncos, and other Junior teams like them, are their hometown heroes, their sons, their brothers, their husbands, the polite young man they billeted as he tried to find a place in the game of hockey.

So many people in the Prairies know someone like them, these young warriors and their coaches traveling hours on dark highways in winter to play our game in another packed and noisy arena.

There can be no recriminations, no second guessing. Riding the team bus on a rural highway is part of hockey life. Its blessings and difficulties are accepted with equanimity. It’s what young men, and women now, have always done. Those buses and those roads stitch together this country in ways few other things ever could.

All we can do is share a grief that is as wide and deep as Canada. The families directly affected lost more than can be put into words. Our hearts break for them. The rest of us mourn the best this country has: those everyday Canadians dedicated to a game that so often unites us in moments of national joy, but which now brings us together in the deepest sorrow.

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