Rockford IceHogs assistant coach Sheldon Brookbank began his hockey career with the Humboldt Broncos, making this month’s tragedy especially difficult for the former pro player turned coach.
"It was kind of my first taste of how to be a pro – we practiced in the morning, our coach treated us like pro’s. It was my first real feel of what it would be like to play pro hockey."
Sheldon Brookbank began his career in his native Saskatchewan with the Broncos.
"They’ve always been there in my life – they’ve always had competitive teams, it’s always something you strive for. The good players from my area, that’s where you go to play once you get older."
The Broncos served as the launch point to an NHL career that saw Brookbank play in more than 300 games. Now an IceHogs assistant, he vividly remembers taking a family phone call earlier this month.
"They said the Broncos were in an accident and think it’s pretty bad. I didn’t really know what to expect."
The magnitude and impact of the April 6 bus crash that took 16 lives is still sinking in for Brookbank.
"Realizing where they are in their lives and knowing their lives got cut a little short – it’s tough to wrap your head around something like that could happen."
He is proud to call that part of Canada home, growing up in and around the game of hockey.
"Meeting my eventual wife from there – there’s a lot of good memories for me in Humboldt. I go back every summer."
His next trip will be a difficult one.
"It’s hard to think what it’s going to be like now – everyone left searching for answers, what to do now and what do we do next from here."
The hockey world has rallied to Humboldt’s side – to comfort, and to heal.
"It’s tough times right now, it’s going to be tough for a while but hopefully we stick together and we help them any way we can."
Humboldt’s hockey brothers and sisters will help them move forward, including Sheldon Brookbank, a proud former Bronco.