An assistant captain for the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's Nipawin Hawks, who is from Steinbach, says they will be playing with heavy heart on Saturday night as play resumes for the first time since last Friday's tragic accident.
The Nipawin Hawks was the team the Humboldt Broncos were going up to play last Friday for game five of the SJHL semifinals. It was announced earlier this week that the Nipawin Hawks will move forward to the SJHL finals and play the Estevan Bruins with back to back home games for the Hawks on Saturday and Sunday night to start the series. Thomas Lenchyshyn notes stepping out on the ice for the game will be an emotional moment. He reflects on where he was and what went through his mind when he first heard the tragic news last Friday.
"We got to the rink at about five and we heard that there was an accident shortly after that and we were just like, at first, hoping that it wasn't serious and then when we found out that there were fatalities then it just, I don't know, it just leaves you speechless you don't know what to think. It was horrible."
Thomas's mom, Lorie Lenchyshyn, says her and her husband Tony were having friends over that night to watch Thomas's game online when she received a text from him saying there had been an accident and it was bad. That weekend, the Nipawin Hawks players were sent home for a couple days to be with their families and Thomas came home here in Steinbach. Lorie notes it was a very quiet weekend for them in their house.
"When he came home, it felt like about 24 hours given the long drive that they had, I asked him and his response to me was 'you know mom, I feel numb about this,' and he goes ' I don't even want to talk about hockey.' So that was a week ago and then slowly, time is a good thing and I think all of the support that everybody was showing towards this tragic event, definitely did translate into support for the people affected incidentally like the opposing team."
On Wednesday, the assistant coach for the Humboldt Broncos, who was travelling to last Friday's game on his own, went out and practised with the Nipawin Hawks team which Thomas says was very inspirational for their team. He adds it was just nice to talk hockey again.
"I think it was a good part of the healing process having him out there. I think it helped him as much as it helped us in the sense that it's good to kind of get back to normal almost and it's good to get back on the ice. He gave a couple pointers just on how we need to play with intensity and we always have to make hard plays so that was good to hear that from him"
Throughout this past week, Lenchyshyn notes they've received an incredible amount of support not only from Humboldt but from the hockey community all across Canada encouraging them to finish the season and play for the Broncos. As a leader of the Hawks team, Lenchyshyn says they will do just that.
"The feeling in the room right now is we just want to win it for Humboldt and we want to honour them the best that we can. We've had a lot of showing of support from people from Humboldt and they just all had the same message that 'you guys got to go win it for us now.'"
To honour the Broncos, Lenchyshyn says they will be wearing special new green helmets with numbers of the Humboldt players on the side and adds once the season is over, they will be giving the helmets back to the Humboldt community.
If the Nipawin Hawks of the SJHL and Steinbach Pistons of the MJHL, where Thomas's younger brother Jack Lenchyshyn plays, were to both win their league series, they would then face off against each other for the Anavet cup which determines who goes to the RBC Cup. Here is Thomas's response when asked what it would be like to play against his brother at this level.
"I think it would be quite a bit of fun to play against him. I would definitely show him who the older brother is, as I think I have to. Yeah, that would be a special thing to have happen for sure."