On the final Saturday of the National Hockey League regular season, arenas from Toronto to Edmonton to Boston fell dark and silent before the puck dropped.
In Winnipeg, players for the Jets and Chicago Blackhawks replaced the nameplates on the back of their jerseys with the word “Broncos” and stood around a circle of light as the crowd all but disappeared.
In Boston, where the Senators played the Bruins, fans pushed signs against the glass that read: “Cheer for Boston, pray for Humboldt.”
Green and gold Broncos stickers dotted the helmets of every NHL player on the ice on Saturday night.
Coach’s Corner was sober, heartbreaking reflection.
The outpouring followed the deaths of 15 people after a semi-trailer crashed into the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team bus as it made its way toward a playoff game in rural Saskatchewan on Friday night.
Ron MacLean, the host of Hockey Night in Canada, began his pre-game show Hockey Central Saturday with solemn words: “All seven Canadian teams play tonight in five cities but tonight all of us are in one city and one city only – Humboldt, Saskatchewan.”
The accident, which claimed the lives of the Broncos coach, team captain and team radio announcer among others, also injured another 14 people.
Tributes, condolences and messages of shock and sadness began flooding in by Saturday morning. Current and former NHL player from local heroes to hall-of-famers struggled to explain the magnitude of the tragedy.
As the day unfolded in the most routine of ways for NHL teams on Saturday – with morning skates and media availabilities – no one talked of the playoffs and the games to come. They talked only of Humboldt.
Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who grew up in Saskatoon, struggled to control his emotions.
“The hockey world’s an unbelievable world, you can’t make up for loss, you just can’t,” Mr. Babcock said. “I can’t even imagine being a parent [of one of the victims]. It’s got to rip the heart out of your chest. We pray for those families and think about them. I don’t know what else you say. Horrific, horrific accident. Tough day.”
In Edmonton, head coach Todd McLellan, who grew up in Melville, Sask., and whose family had roots in Humboldt, sat almost folded in on himself as he spoke after the Oilers practised.
“We’re all in shock,” he said. “There’s really no other way to put it. We’re a little bit on the outside looking in. You can’t imagine what those families are going through and feeling right now. It won’t just be today. It will go on a while.
“It goes on forever.”
Unusually, before the Maple Leafs played the Canadiens in Toronto, Mr. Babcock and Habs coach Claude Julien appeared together outside the dressing rooms. They didn’t talk about the game they were about to play.
“We’re rattled,” Mr. Julien said. “The players in the dressing room are rattled.”
“We need to play this game well in honour of Humboldt,” Mr. Babcock said.
Colby Armstrong, a former Leaf and Pittsburgh Penguin who grew up in Saskatoon, broke down in tears during a live interview with Mr. MacLean. His mother Rosemary was a figure skating coach in Humboldt during his childhood.
“I spent many days out there when my mom was on the ice and the Humboldt Broncos were the team hanging around all the time,” Mr. Armstrong said. “It’s crazy how close to home this is. I got to try out for the Broncos when I was 15 years old.
“Last night, I was working the Penguins game and saw the news come across and then I got a call from my mom who was just in tears.”
On Coach’s Corner after the first intermission, Don Cherry was remarkably stoic. He spared words, saying there were none to describe the scope of the tragedy.
“Let’s have a little prayer for them,” Mr. Cherry said, before a montage of 29 photos of the players, coaches and team staff played, set against the mournful song Wheat Kings by the Tragically Hip.
Earlier in the day, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement that said the league’s thoughts and prayers were with the team, the players’ families and the community.
“The NHL mourns the passing of those who perished and offers strength and comfort to those injured while travelling to play and be part of a game they all love,” the statement said.
On Twitter, Wayne Gretzky wrote: “Janet and I have struggled all day with the horrific accident in Saskatchewan. We are so sad for the @HumboldtBroncos families and are praying for them.”
Janet and I have struggled all day with the horrific accident in Saskatchewan. We are so sad for the @HumboldtBroncos families and are praying for them.— Wayne Gretzky (@WayneGretzky) April 8, 2018
Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice said the entire hockey community was devastated. He had a message for Humboldt.
“Such a horrific situation that hits so very close to home for all of us,” he told reporters. “We spent our lives at that age riding our bus to hockey games and being part of the fabric of playing in Canada.
“We grieve with you.”