HUMBOLDT — In the middle two seats of the top row of Section U at the Elgar Petersen Arena, John and Helen Kerbrat remain a constant.
The pair have been Broncos fans, attending their games since the team’s inception in 1970. In fact, they’ve been watching junior A hockey in Humboldt long enough they remember the junior hockey franchise that preceded the Broncos.
“It was a different name when we started,” said John.
The Humboldt Indians, later the Humboldt-Melfort Indians, were the Kerbrats’ first junior A love in Humboldt, but after that team left for Estevan in 1957, the pair were hockeyless.
John moved to Humboldt in 1948 from his home in St. Laurent, Man.
The Kerbrats, who celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary on Sept. 5, later moved to British Columbia.
After a stint in BC where John worked in a lumber mill, the pair returned to Saskatchewan. Helen’s father had gotten sick, and with John and Helen’s four kids being the lone grandchildren in the family, they returned.
“He [Helen’s father] bought some land for me. He said, ‘John if I buy some land would you come?’ ‘Yes,’ I said,” said John.
“I came here because they had hockey and I said ‘We’ve got good highways going to Saskatoon and in Regina,’ so I said, ‘What the heck would we want more and the people are good, and nice.’”
The pair moved into their farm in St. Brieux and followed the Broncos from their farm.
John remembers drives into Humboldt from St. Brieux, being in a convoy of close to 18 vehicles.
“Now there’s not one,” he said.
“It was the other side of St. Brieux that some were coming, Lake Lenore were coming, we were picking up some people from the East too, so it was good.”
The near 45-minute drive into Humboldt never fazed the pair, and with the pair getting older and now living in Humboldt, the trip to the rink is still easy.
“I’m a hockey fan,” said John, explaining why he keeps coming back. “That’s what I am.”
Over the years, the Kerbrats have spent time in nearly every Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League arena, including making weekend trips for games in Flin Flon or in the south.
John and Helen remember going to those games in groups of close to 16, and with son Guy living in Rouleau, the Kerbrats had a warm bed to sleep in during the southern Saskatchewan trips through Notre Dame, Estevan and Weyburn.
The Kerbrat pair have visited 11 of the SJHL’s 12 arenas, with the lone exception being La Ronge.
“We would have made it there,” said Helen. “But we were coming from Saskatoon and they said ‘Oh there’s going to be some ice tonight, on the roads.’ ‘Well then,’ we said, ‘we better not go.’”
The arenas have changed significantly over the years, said Helen.
“The seats,” she laughed. “Oh my goodness, we just had benches. It was all benches before. Just like in the smaller arenas now that’s what they had then.”
John and Helen’s hockey trips did not just keep them in Saskatchewan either. Helen said that the pair also visited playoff games in Manitoba towns like Portage la Prairie, Winkler, Selkirk and even Winnipeg.
When thinking back to all the arenas they have attended, one clearly stood out to Helen.
“It’s so funny to watch a game in Notre Dame. It’s so quiet. All there is there is the students.”
Hockey and the Broncos mean so much to the pair that when they traveled to Charlottetown in the years after the Broncos won, they made sure to make a special trip to the Eastlink Centre, just to sit in the arena where the Broncos captured their maiden Royal Bank Cup title in 2003.
With the green and gold entering their 48th season, John and Helen have watched the Broncos play more than 1,000 Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League contests in Humboldt alone.
Thinking back over the years, Helen said she can remember most of the players, especially once she hears the name.
As for her favourite, Helen says she liked the goalies.
“We had good goalies. Very good goalies.”
Of course, the pair have also been present for a number of key events, including the 1973 Centennial Cup playoff series between the Portage Terriers and the Broncos.
“It was a big brawl. Everybody was on the ice. Bottles of beer and bottles of whisky was flying. You know how they stopped it? They shut off the lights,” she said. “They had to. They couldn’t do anything. The game was over,” says John remembering game five’s explosive end.
With the Broncos set to hit the ice for another season, John said he is looking forward to it.
“It’s going to be something.”