For Terry Henning, it all started with a knock on his front door on 9th Street, just past the land titles building in Humboldt and about a block from the old Leo Parker Arena. Kelly Kidd was doing the knocking. Kidd was a prominent grocer around town, and president of the newly formed Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, a squad that reeled off seven consecutive victories to kick off its inaugural 1970-71 season.
The team’s hot start had a significant flaw. The Broncos head coach, whose name has slipped through the cracks of local history, would celebrate each successive win by getting raucously drunk. For a new, community-owned, community-operated franchise, in an area with strong German-Catholic roots, and with players largely drawn from the town and the surrounding farms and villages, it was a situation that just wouldn’t do.
And so they fired the coach and came knocking for Henning, a young physician at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital with a sparkling hockey resumé — he had played at the University of Saskatchewan, and coached younger kids in Humboldt to provincial hockey championships. He was busy building his practice, delivering babies at night but, as he recalls, saying no wasn’t exactly an option.
“What you need to understand is the Broncos were a different ballgame. We built a team of mostly local kids, and kids from the nearby towns,” says Henning, from his home in Nanaimo, B.C.
“We were a community team.”
Humboldt and its Broncos were a thread in a larger hockey fabric, a rich Canadian tapestry of towns and farms and suburbs and cities, and the places in between, where the game brings us together, where we understand what it means to be part of a team. And that is why Canadians put hockey sticks on their front porches in the days after the Humboldt crash, as a memorial to an unspeakable tragedy; it is why school kids across the country went to class in hockey sweaters on Thursday; why a GoFundMe campaign for the players and families affected has surpassed $10.5-million; and why hockey Moms and Dads everywhere, who spend winters in cold rinks, tying skates, and telling their sons and daughters to try their best and have fun, have been thinking: that could be my kid — that could have been me.
Humboldt is one place, but the story there is a part of all of us. And what you need to understand about Humboldt’s story is that, before the Broncos came along, the town had been starved of junior hockey for 13 years. Ever since 1957, when Scotty Munro, persona non grata in Humboldt hockey circles, hijacked the Humboldt-Melfort Indians, relocating the franchise to Estevan and renaming it the Bruins.
It was an unholy hockey insult for the residents of Humboldt, and the Broncos, at long last, were their deliverance: a town-owned team consisting of small, speedy, skilled, hardworking, dynamic local kids, with a doctor for a coach — Henning would stitch players up on the bench — and an optometrist for a …read more