In a poignant online tribute to those who died in the Humboldt Broncos coach crash on Friday, hundreds of people have shared photographs of hockey sticks left outside overnight.
Fifteen people died and more than a dozen were injured when a bus carrying the Humboldt junior team collided with a semi-trailer 124 miles north-east of Saskatoon. Police said 29 people were on the bus. Ten players, the driver, two coaches, a volunteer statistician and a play-by-play announcer were killed. Canada was plunged into shock and mourning.
On Sunday Brian Munz, a sports announcer who once covered the Broncos in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, tweeted a picture of a lone hockey stick, explaining that a high school friend had sent him the photo with the caption: “Leaving it out on the porch tonight. The boys might need it … wherever they are.”
Munz invited others to do likewise and hundreds heeded his call. Across North America, from Kelowna to Florida, hockey sticks were left on porches and next to backyard rinks. The attendant hashtag, #PutYourSticksOut, echoed a 2014 tribute to the Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, who died after being hit on the head by a ball.
“Kids are leaving their sticks out for the angels to use tonight,” wrote one person on Twitter on Sunday, alongside several photos of sticks left outside. Another added on Instagram: “Tonight we leave a candle burning for the 15 lives lost, a porch light on for those families who keep waiting for their boys, a hockey stick just in case a Bronco needs to teach angels how to play!”
In Saskatchewan, Teena Monteleone said she put out a stick in memory of Adam Herold, “an amazing hockey player and young man we had the honor of billeting”. Herold, who had only played with the Broncos for two weeks, was a week shy of his 17th birthday.
Along with condolences, donations have poured in from across Canada and nearly 60 countries, for players and families affected. More than C$5.4m has been raised.
In Humboldt, a close-knit farming community, thousands packed the Broncos’ arena on Sunday to mourn those killed in the crash. With players that hail from across western Canada and who range in age from 16 to 21, the team was well-known in the hockey-loving town.
“It’s just gut-wrenching,” Gordon Lees, a Humboldt resident who has been a fan of the team since it formed in 1970, told Reuters. “It tears your heart out to think that these are fine young guys, that their futures have been wiped out.”
Officials released the names of those killed. Among them were Mark Cross, 27, the assistant coach who was remembered as kind-hearted and caring. Evan Thomas, 18, was described by his father as an excellent player who loved his team-mates. Logan Hunter, 18, was remembered as a kind soul, while Glen Doerksen, the driver of the bus, was described as a family man with a passion for hockey.
Player Logan Boulet – who signed an organ donor card after turning 21 a few weeks earlier – was taken off life support on Sunday. “All counted, six people will receive the gift of life from Logan,” his godfather wrote on Facebook. “These actions alone give voice to the selfless and benevolent nature Logan possessed in life for others.”
“A lot of these boys looked alike,” said a spokesperson, noting players had dyed their hair blond during the playoffs and had similar athletic builds. He apologised to the Labelle family, acknowledging that it would be “incredibly traumatic” for them not to have been at their injured son’s side.
“Our condolences go out to the family of Parker Tobin,” the office added in a statement. “Unfortunately, Parker is one of the 15 that have lost their lives in this terrible tragedy.”
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