In Humboldt, the hockey arena is the place where fans gather to cheer on their local hockey heroes.
But on April 8 fans flocked in to the Elgar Petersen Arena (EPA) for another reason – to pray for all 29 members of the Humboldt Broncos organization who were on the bus during the April 6 collision that claimed 15 lives and injured 14 others.
Thousands flocked inside the EPA, and within minutes the arena was full.
Overflow areas were set up across the city, including at the Jubilee Hall, Humboldt Curling Club, Humboldt Collegiate Institute, Humboldt Public School, and St. Augustine Parish Hall.
Those too, were full.
“We are gathered in a state of shock and unthinkable heartache. This tragedy has devastated our families, our Humboldt Broncos organization, our community, Saskatchewan, Canada and our world,” Broncos president Kevin Garinger said.
Dignitaries far and wide joined those in Humboldt to take in the vigil, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Scott Moe, and Ron McLean and Don Cherry from Hockey Night in Canada.
Maybe the most important dignitary on hand for the Humboldt Broncos came from an old friend.
Elgar Petersen, the namesake of the very arena the Broncos play in, made the long trip from Cudworth to be there.
Petersen, who was a constant around the arena for many years, has been mostly absent in recent years as age, and distance have made it more difficult for him to attend games, making his appearance at the vigil quite special.
“Elgar has been part of the Broncos from the beginning and thank you for that, Elgar,” Mayor Rob Muench said.
It was only fitting, perhaps, that the vigil took place on the same ice surface, and at the same time, that game six would have been played had the Broncos returned home with a win that fateful night.
A moment of silence was observed at 7:30 p.m., the time the puck would have dropped.
“Hopefully we can stand together as a group, as a community, as a province, as a country together and get through this,” Muench said.
The vigil, was one of the first steps in the healing process.
“We will get through this together.”
Garinger, who was one of the first to speak, admitted that the real reach and scope of the tragedy had not yet set in and could take months to do so.
“But in all this darkness a light has shone through. This light has come from the first responders and the medical professionals who have worked miracles and continue to work miracles for those members of our Broncos family.”
Support has been far reaching since people began becoming aware of the tragedy on Friday night.
“To everyone who has shared a message of condolence, to everyone who has called or emailed or posted online to show their support, we hear you and we feel your love. I cannot put into words how much this has meant to us,” said Garinger.
“Today and for everyday forward we are all Humboldt Broncos and we will be forever Humboldt Broncos strong.”
Broncos team chaplain, Sean Brandow, opened his raw, emotional address by admitting that he did not want to be there.
“But it’s good that we are.”
Brandow, who was travelling to the game behind the bus and saw the aftermath of the collision, noted he came upon a scene he does not want to see or hear again.
“All I saw was hurt and anguish and fear and confusion. And I had nothing. Nothing. I’m a pastor, I’m supposed to have something.”
Prayers continued from many churches in the Humboldt Christian community.
Maybe the most moving moment of the evening came at the conclusion of Garinger’s speech, when he named all 29 members of the Broncos involved in the collision.
First the survivors and then the deceased.
“They will be forever Humboldt Broncos,” he concluded.