WINNIPEG, MB - This past weekend, families, a community, a province, a country, and the world had their resolve tested after an unthinkable tragedy. I, along with everyone else, have been devastated and trying to come to terms with what happened on a rural road in Saskatchewan last Friday.
I used to ride the bus in the SJHL during my time as a play by play announcer with the La Ronge Ice Wolves. Being located a couple of hours north of Prince Albert, we, along with the Flin Flon Bombers, were probably on the bus longer than any other team in the league. Our nearest geographical rivals were Nipawin, Melfort, or Flin Flon, all which were about three and a half hour trips.
That’s a lot of time to spend on a bus. But looking back, it was some of the best times I’ve had in my life.
When I joined the Ice Wolves, I was 29 years old, the same age as Humboldt’s broadcaster Tyler Bieber. I was surrounded by a great group of kids, just as Bieber was, and the coaches and staff were some of the most amazing and caring people anyone could have asked to be around, just like the Broncos organization.
Maybe this is why this weekend hit me so hard. I’ve been there. I’ve been on the bus, sharing laughs, sharing stories, watching how from the first game of the season until the end of the season, a group of kids from different backgrounds and nationalities, became a family.
During the winter, our home was the rink, and the bus. It’s where we enjoyed the excitement after a huge win, singing, laughing, yelling, and just enjoying being around everyone. It’s where we sat quietly after a loss, giving ourselves some time to think and ponder about the game and what we could do better next time.
It was our dinner table. Picking up some fast food for the post-game meal and bringing it back on the bus. Sometimes we’d stop at random gas stations in rural Saskatchewan to pick up snacks and bathroom breaks. There was a bathroom on the bus but….. let’s just say the veterans in the back weren’t overly appreciative of people who would use it for a significant amount of time.
The bus was our beds. With many games ending close to 10:00 pm, the long bus rides back home, or wherever we were headed, would give everyone a chance to put their pillows, jackets, bags, or anything they could use against the window or a teammates shoulder to get some sleep.
The bus was our home away from home. I saw these players more than I saw anyone else. I had moved away from my wife and kids to pursue my dream of being a play by play announcer. It was a huge sacrifice, one I couldn’t do without their support, but it was worth every minute of it. It sounds cliché, and we’ve heard it a thousand times, but it couldn’t be more true. The team became my family. And the majority of the time it was the bus rides where most of the bonding would take place.
Just like any family, there were the arguments, love, camaraderie, and pranks on a daily basis. Did I wake up with my shoes tied together? Yes. Did my bag sometimes mysteriously disappear only to be found later under some seats in the back of the bus? Yes. Did the music on my Ipod suddenly switch from having Tragically Hip and AC/DC to mostly Britney Spears and a ridiculous amount of boy bands on it? Yes.
I may not have been on the ice with the boys. I wasn’t in the dressing room with the boys. But they made me feel like I was just as important as everyone else on the team, and for that I’m very grateful. In turn, I would do my best to represent the players, the organization, and the entire community in all my broadcasts. In junior hockey, a lot of these boys have moved away from their homes for the first time in their lives to pursue their dream. As a broadcaster, I was kind of the middle man between them and their families. I made it a point to interview every single player, giving each of them a chance to say hi to their loved ones listening back home. Through conversations with the players, I’d add little tidbits about maybe some other things the kids had done, such as community event, school readings, and anything else that I think the families back home would love to hear about. The families, who would listen to the games, would constantly send messages, saying how much they appreciate that we were keeping them in touch with their children, brothers, and friends. Knowing how much it meant to both the players and the families was what I loved most about my job.
For the Humboldt Broncos, Tyler Bieber was that guy. In a community as close-knit as Humboldt, Tyler was the man in charge of painting the picture on the radio for everyone listening. He was the middle man for the families who would tune in and listen to each broadcast from wherever they may be, cheering on their son from afar. I personally have not heard Tyler call a game, but from what I’ve seen and heard in the last few days, he was passionate, intelligent, and loved what he did. In addition to being the voice of the Broncos, Tyler also loved his community, giving back by coaching high school basketball and football in Humboldt and was a big fan of the CFL. Thes are all amazing characteristics for any human to have, and It just shows the type of person Tyler was.
Once I heard the tragic news on Friday evening, there are so many people I thought of. Of course, I immediately thought of the players and coaches on the bus. Once word came in about the magnitude of what had happened, I couldn’t even comprehend what I was hearing. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for the families, billets, friends, and loved ones of every member of the Broncos organization.
I thought about the Ice Wolves long-time bus driver Kenny, who drove us through some horrendous conditions in my time with the club, and I never once felt unsafe. There were times I’d look out the window and just be thankful I wasn’t driving. Driving through northern Saskatchewan in winter can be daunting at the best of times, never mind in the middle of the night, and I know every member of the organization never took Kenny for granted, and we were fortunate to have him. Thank you Kenny.
I think of the many play by play announcers I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and have remained friends with over the years. There’s a special bond there, and one that I’m happy to have.
I think that’s why I’ve been thinking a lot about Tyler these past few days. We never met, but we have a bond. Tyler was someone who just like the kids on the bus, was pursuing his dreams and doing what he loved. Someone who just like me, had a passion for sports, and brought that passion to the people of Humboldt and the families listening in many different locations. Tyler was big a part of the Broncos organization, and there’s no doubt his voice, his passion, and his commitment to the community and giving back will be missed greatly.
This weekend shook me to the core. There have been plenty of tears shed the past few days. What I’ve seen from the community of Humboldt, the province of Saskatchewan, our country, and the world for that matter has been nothing short of amazing, and though it may not seem like it right now, brighter days will be ahead for everyone involved.
I’ve never personally met the boys from the Humboldt Broncos, but it doesn’t matter. I know them. We all know them. Because we are all Broncos.