On a sign just north of Tisdale on the way up to Nipawin, some children used bright yellow posterboard to draw a black spoked B, with the message on the sign: “Please Drive Safe, Bruins”.
If you didn't realize you were within moments of driving to the site where the Humboldt Broncos bus crashed, that would undoubtedly have brought it home.
A sombre visit to the crash site by the Power Dodge Estevan Bruins Friday evening had players, coaches and team staff in tears, inside and outside of prayer circles, in advance of their Canalta Cup final Games 1 and 2 against the Nipawin Hawks.
“It really tough coming through here,” said Kaelan Holt, one of the Bruins' assistant captains. “A lot of the guys had really good friends out here and we're kind of paying tribute the best we can. It's good that we were able to do that this trip.”
The team gave gifts and greetings to some members of the Nipawin Fire Department, representing the first responders to the crash, before going to the memorial itself just off the highway.
“I've heard all the stories about how amazing they were and how they got here and did everything they could and stayed as long as they had to,” said Bruins captain Jake Fletcher. “They were giving their coats to the players who needed them and they were freezing out here. They're the real heroes here.”
With mud and ice all around, the site stands apart on a large rubber mat with crosses, gifts and momentos from others who have been there.
The ride up for the Bruins was largely the same as many other long road trips they'll do over the course of the season.
“We tried to stay in good spirits,” Holt said. “Getting on for the first time after that is really tough. I think being here (at the site) makes it better. We've got a really tight knit group of guys.
“It's real and it actually happened... Once you get here, there aren't any words to describe it.”
Fletcher agreed that they knew it would be tough emotionally to get to the site.
“We were trying to keep it out of our heads as much as we could but as soon as we stopped in Tisdale, and it got closer and closer, it really started to hit,” said Fletcher. “I know lots of guys are feeling really nervous on the bus... it was pretty tough.”
Once it was realized that the Bruins would play in the final against the Hawks, Bruins head coach and general manager Chris Lewgood made sure the team would be able to have a moment at the site through the provincial department of Highways.
“It took awhile to get to the point where we were thinking about (coming here),” Lewgood said. “Of course the initial thoughts were just about the tragedy itself and the people involved. When we started looking at the logistics of the trip, it was a no-brainer for us. We knew we had to stop and pay tribute.”
It was an extremely emotional week, Lewgood said, for the entire country. One of his good friends in the coaching circles was Darcy Haugan and Lewgood spent a lot of time reading what was written by a family member at a cross with his name.
Despite the cold breeze, the Bruins lingered there for a while and some even left their own momentos before re-boarding the Bruins team bus.
While the hurt is still there, for the Bruins at least, the healing process will include playing the game again.
“I think us playing again is going to be huge,” Holt said. “I think lots of us are looking forward to getting on the ice and with those guys in our mind, play our best and finish hard.”