Riding the bus to hockey games is as close to a universal experience as the game offers. Stories are told and friendships are forged while the hours pass along highways and rural roads, a common bond players remember years later.
That's why Ducks players and coach Randy Carlyle were deeply affected by news of a deadly collision on Friday involving a truck and the bus that carried the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League to a playoff game in the northern reaches of the prairie province. As of Saturday, 15 people had died and many others were in the hospital
"It's a devastating thing," said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf, who is from Regina, Saskatchewan. "There's roads up there, mostly two-lane highways. I don't know what happened exactly with the semi driver but that's a very tough time.
"It definitely makes you think back on all the times you were sitting on the bus. Playing in the Western League you spent a lot of hours on the bus. That's crazy… It's a big thing to happen to such a small community. We've already reached out a little bit to see if there's anything we can do," he said, referring to himself and several teammates. "Over the next couple of weeks there is not a lot you can do other than give love and support."
Defenseman Josh Manson, who grew up not far away in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, said his brother, Ben, had played in the same league as the Broncos this season. Getting on the bus to go to games is as much second nature to players as lacing their skates, and no one ever considers the possibility of an accident like this one.
"You don't even think about that. You get on the bus and you kind of get numb to it as a kid growing up. It's part of hockey," Manson said before the Ducks faced the Arizona Coyotes in their regular-season finale. "You don't want to think about something like that. For it to happen, it's just devastating."
Carlyle called it "a tragedy beyond explanation," and recalled the many bus rides he took between one small Canadian town and another during his younger days.
"We still travel by bus, even today, but in bigger cities. It brings you back to earth in a hurry," he said. "You just can't say enough for the players and the people that are left to deal with the tragedy."
Humboldt's population is about 6,000, so this tragedy will be felt keenly.
"You grow up in small towns of 3,000 to 5,000 or 6,000 people, the hockey team is usually the fabric of the community in the winter months. So there would be a lot of fundraisers that take place through the hockey club, there would be a lot of socials that take place, and the team would be front and center," Carlyle said. "And those are things that drive the depth of the tragedy even further because I'm sure there's a personal attachment with a lot of people in that community with those players on that team."
The Kings, Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames said they would donate the proceeds of their 50/50 raffles toward helping the victims of the crash and the victims' families. The Jets and the Chicago Blackhawks wore special jerseys with the name BRONCOS in the place where players' names usually go.
The Ducks' game against Arizona has potential playoff implications, though those thoughts were largely put aside beforehand. "It's the cruel part of life. Sport goes on, life goes on. And we've got a game to play and people have mourning to deal with," Carlyle said. "It's a tragic event that we have to push aside, which is very hard."
He also said planned to play all of his regulars because the Ducks still have a chance to finish second in the Pacific Division and have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.