Sunday, April 08, 2018

The Boys on the Bus

If you’re a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, you remember the documentary about them in the 80’s called, “The Boys on The Bus!”.  It chronicled a year of following the team around as they went from a low point to the highest of highs in winning the Stanley Cup.  It was a great film in that it showed the inside look at the many personalities that make up a hockey team.  Sure hockey is a team sport and we do for the most part, cheer for the logo on the front, but we all like to see the inside look into these athletes and in some ways relate to them on a human level.  Goodness knows we certainly couldn’t relate to them on a physical level.  The Boys on The Bus was an appropriate title, because it speaks volumes to the sanctity that is the team bus, and how the bus itself is an exercise in team bonding that even Tony Robbins couldn’t manage. There’s something magical about that first bus ride with a new roster in the fall.  Some kids nervous as it is their first time playing rep, the vets who sit in the back and rule their roost, and the coaches using bus behaviour as a possible measuring stick of team cohesiveness.  When you're going to a different town to play and you don't know a soul, the place of refuge, is the bus.

I’ve heard it called may things in my time; the iron lung, Sparky’s Speedster, the pig, the yellow submarine, and so on.  I’ve had the privilege of being able to sit back while driven places by drivers named ETA Norm, Rocket Mike, and Mister Mike.  One of the best memories was of Mister Mike and I coming back from a tourney where the bus had issues and our ETA was moved from midnight to 4AM.  Everyone, and I mean everyone was asleep except Mike and I.  He was an older retired fellow from Ireland and to pass the time and keep ourselves awake, Mike taught me the words to “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” and we filled the air with our voices as we drove through the darkness.  It still remains one of my favorite hockey memories to this day.

There’s nothing special about the buses themselves unless you have a generous team manager or team willing to lend you one of their super coaches, which are a definite step up from the modified school buses I’ve ridden (nothing says iron sides like riding on a foam seat for 10 hours when the expiration on the foam is about 2 hours).  Adventures on the bus are another thing as well.  I’ve been in those bad boys when the heater blew leaving the bus about as cold inside as outside, or the time a spark plug lodged loose and yours truly crawled underneath to not only find the problem, but also thread it back into place and tighten it, all at 2AM in the morning on a dark highway.  One could write a book about the adventures on a bus.  They are part and parcel of the sporting experience.

After this weekend’s tragedy involving the Humdboldt Broncos, we are left with many questions, heavy hearts, and much sorrow, particularly those who have ridden the bus to get to a game.  No one ever expects that to happen and I pray it never happens again.  Why do we feel such closeness to these young men whom we never met?  Quite simple really.  We feel for the parents who let their kids play sports knowing full well that injury is part of sports, and really hoping injuries are never too serious.  We feel for the young lives of these young men who were living out their hockey dreams in a time of such innocence.  Those of us in the coaching fraternity feel for the coaches who take on a monumental task of not only producing good players but also excellent human beings.  We feel for the statiscian, team announcer, and driver, who may not feel they are part of the team per se, but are as valued as anyone else.  Most of all, because this was a team from a small town, we all feel like they were members of our small town due to the closeness of not only the hockey community, but from that small town feeling most Canadians have ingrained into their DNA.  We can all relate and we all know we can all help in whatever way we can.
Leaving some sticks out for the boys to play

I sit here this evening still numb from two days ago and I really should be preparing to teach tomorrow, but I just can’t.  The pain is too much right now. As one who lost their dad to a MVA just a little over a year ago, I know all too well the pain those families are feeling right now after receiving the phone call no one wants to hear.  It shakes you to the core of your being and life is never the same.

To close, my utmost prayers are to the community of Humboldt and the players families.  I would also like to thank all first responders who have given so much these last few days.  Bless each and every one of you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, like many others have done these last two days, I’m going outside to leave some hockey sticks out for the boys in case they drop by and need one.