CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – The tragedy in Humboldt, Sask., last week hit close to home for Islander Rob Rice.
“It hit hard. As an alumni member – this is your team,” he said. “For the first few days it was pretty numbing for me.”
Rice played for the Humboldt Broncos during the 1985-86 and 1986-87 seasons.
A week ago today, 16 people, including 10 players, died after the team's bus and a transport truck collided at a rural intersection north of Tisdale, Sask.
“It sort of made you think of all the bus trips you made,” the Charlottetown native, who has lived in Invermere, B.C., for 23 years, said Thursday, reflecting on the past week. “As a parent and as a former coach and as a former player, it hit me pretty hard. It hit all of us pretty hard.”
Rice played for the Ken’s Corner Eagles in 1984-85 when they were eliminated in the Maritime junior A championship by Cole Harbour, N.S. The Charlottetown Islanders senior squad asked three members of the Eagles, including Rice, to join the team in Moose Jaw, Sask., for the 1985 Hardy Cup national championship.
It was there Rice caught the attention of the Broncos and he joined them the next season as they built towards hosting the 1987 Centennial Cup. It was a big move for Rice as he was leaving home and moving across the country.
“I wasn’t moving there by myself. I was out there with 20 hockey players, 20 buddies,” said Rice, who was known to his teammates as Spud. “The community out there was a strong community, and it reminded me a lot of town because they loved their hockey.”
In December 1986, four members of the Swift Current Broncos major junior team died during a bus crash. The year before, Swift Current had a junior A team, but when the major junior squad came to town the junior A players were dispersed to other Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League teams, including one player on Rice’s Broncos squad. Humboldt was playing the night of the Swift Current crash, and Rice remembers his teammate being called out of the dressing room to give him the devastating news.
“Here we are, all young hockey players, 19, 20 years old, and seeing this guy breaking down and then being told the news,” Rice recalled. “Being that age, you kind of think you’re invincible. . . The biggest decision you have to make the next day is what you're having for breakfast.”
Friday’s crash brought back some of those memories for Rice. He said a lot has changed since his time in Humboldt, including the acceptance of sharing grief with others and how quickly news spreads today.
“It put life in perspective,” said Rice, who is the father of UPEI Panthers forward R.T. Rice.
Rob said he has been in touch with his teammates during the past week, sharing memories and grieving together. He has been overwhelmed by the show of support, both financially and emotionally, across the country.
“I’m proud as a Humboldt (alumni), but I think I’m just as proud, if not more, as a Canadian in the support that we’ve all shown,” he said.