Home / World News / As Avs beat Blues to clinch playoff berth, why a piece of Jared Bednar’s heart was 1,000 miles away

As Avs beat Blues to clinch playoff berth, why a piece of Jared Bednar’s heart was 1,000 miles away

For the first time since 2014, the Avalanche is headed to the NHL playoffs, and Colorado coach Jared Bednar has every reason to smile, despite the pain in his heart.

It is a measure of Bednar the man, and a peek into what makes him tick, to know that on the biggest night of this season, when Colorado beat St. Louis 5-2, the coach was tender with grief for a terrible accident one day earlier in his native Saskatchewan.

A nearly incomprehensible tragedy resulted in the deaths of 15 people many of them young hockey players for the Humboldt Broncos, when the team bus was gruesomely torn apart in a collision with a tractor-trailer.

“That’s my hometown, eh,” Bednar told reporters Saturday morning. As a small child in Humboldt, did he dream of wearing a Broncos sweater? Of course Bednar did. The windswept prairie of Canada can be cold, dark and unforgiving all winter long. But in a farming community with a population of 6,000, the ice arena serves as a beacon of light. The Broncos are a junior team. Their players are adolescents, chasing a dream.

Before the puck was dropped in a showdown between Colorado and St. Louis, there was a moment of silence for a junior hockey team whose hometown is nearly 1,000 miles north of Denver.

The NHL is often treated as the ignored stepchild of the major professional leagues in the United States. But to dismiss hockey as a fringe sport is to miss a bigger truth. The game is a tight-knit family, from the peewees to the pros.

The 50-50 raffle at hockey rinks is a tradition as old as a goalie pounding his stick on the ice to signal the end of a power play. In Denver, inside an arena when reborn Avalanche fans and interlopers from St. Louis tried to shout each other down all evening long, half the proceeds from the raffle were earmarked for Humboldt’s shattered team.

“I know what that team means to that town,” said Bednar, who wrestled with his emotions when discussing the tragedy. “I have a couple friends — one of their sons is a goaltender for the Broncos — and he survived.”

Fifteen members of the Humboldt team did not survive the horrific crash on Highway 35.

When teenage phenom Sam Girard, standing just inside the blue line, buried a big old slapper to give the Avalanche a 1-0 lead during the final minute of the first period, the noise nearly blew the roof off the Pepsi Center. And it felt like old times in the barn that Joe, Peter and Patty built.

It was also impossible for me to ignore that Girard, at 19 years old, is roughly the same age as many of the Broncos. Logan Schatz, captain of the team Humboldt loves like their own sons, was among the 15 crash victims. He died at age 20.

“All of hockey is with (the Broncos) … We pray for them, for sure. They were very young. And it’s very sad,” said Girard, who recalls riding the team bus for well in excess of 12 hours for some road trips he took in junior hockey.

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