It was a powerful moment during an otherwise devastating time.
One fan standing proud in his Humboldt Broncos jersey during the national anthems of the Winnipeg Jets’ final regular season game of the season.
Dr. Darrel Drachenberg woke up the morning after the Broncos’ bus crash feeling like the rest of Canada; heart broken. He knew heading into that night’s final Jets game of the year that he had to pull on his green Broncos jersey.
“I thought I would celebrate the team and pay my respects and honour my team by wearing the jersey,” he said.
“I didn’t think it was going to go much farther than that… I just kind of thought I would be the only person there wearing something and I might get a few high fives or whatever when I wore that but the massive outpouring that I got when I wore that jersey was overwhelming to say the least. It was amazing actually.”
Drachenberg first learned of the tragic accident the night of April 6, and said when he first heard about it his immediate thoughts went to the community and the families involved.
“I know how important the Broncos organization is to the city and how important it is to the people in that area and the identity of that town so it was so tragic,” he said.
“It was a way of rallying the community and helping them try and deal with the immense loss that they’re feeling.”
Drachenberg still has family in the area, and says his next concern went to them, noting he was not sure if any family were en route to the game.
“I kind of immediately called my father to make sure he was safe and everything was good and then it started sinking in that this tragedy happened,” he said.
“Then through the night we started hearing more about it. The next day I knew I had to go to the final Jets game of the season and I just thought it was fitting for me to wear my Humboldt Broncos jersey.”
The Broncos have always been an interesting case, says Drachenberg, who despite having never lived in Humboldt says the green and gold are still the junior team he has always felt closest to.
Drachenberg, who was born in Regina and grew up in Vancouver and Winnipeg, still had family in the area, and says he always has fond memories of the Broncos when he would come and visit his grandparents.
“My grandparents house was right next door to the arena where the Broncos played and so when I was there I used to see the team. We’d go to practices, we’d go to games as well when I was a kid. The fact that the team was so important to the town and to the community resonated,” he said.
“I even have friends who played for the Broncos in the past and all the positive things they say about the community and the community giving back to the team, it’s been amazing.”
Drachenberg says his earliest memories are of the Broncos.
While the Drachenberg’s moved away from Humboldt before Drachenberg was born, his father moved back after the unfortunate passing of Drachenberg mother. He and his father try to catch games when he is in town, he says.
Despite not living here, Drachenberg says he still follows the team, calling himself a fan, but notes his father is a super fan, who even makes noise makers for the games.
So when his father saw Drachenberg in the jersey, he says it was a proud moment.
“He was very proud that not me in particular but somebody was able to demonstrate that memorial or that respect or that homage so soon after the tragedy… It made him very proud to be from Humboldt.”
Thinking back to the moment he first put the jersey on as he got set to head to MTS Centre for the Jets game, Drachenberg says it is still emotional for him.
“Just to think the number of people that lost their lives in the crash and the life that they had ahead of them. They were doing what they loved to do, they were playing the game that they loved, they were going to represent the community in the best possible way and then to have that tragically taken away is horrible and so it’s some of the hardest thoughts to think about,” he admitted.
“I had a hard time actually. I did break down when I put the jersey on.”
Drachenberg says he has never had a harder time in his life trying to keep it together during a hockey game than he did that night.
In the days following the Jets game, Drachenberg says the support has been amazing.
For Drachenberg that support started the next morning, when he boarded a flight to Vancouver for business, he said.
“I had to meet a real estate agent… he came to pick me up at the airport and he’d never met me but when he picked me up he said ‘hey, I saw you on T.V. on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada wearing that Broncos jersey.’ So even a fellow who had never met me in Vancoouver, which is not Winnipeg kind of just out of the blue knew who I was.”
Since then the support has continued, says Drachenberg, who noted even when he went to CancerCare Manitoba to visit patients, they were more interested in talking about the game.
“Nobody wanted to talk about their cancer diagnosis or any of the treatment they were receiving, all they wanted to talk about was how great it was to wear that jersey. Many of them welled up in the office and teared up thinking about that because it’s such an emotional event for them just to hear of that tragedy.”
“It surprised me the depth of response that we’ve seen.”