HUMBOLDT, Saskatchewan – Junior hockey players and others were en route to a crucial playoff game Friday when a tractor-trailer slammed into their chartered bus, killing 15 and sending shock waves through a small Canadian town.
The dead include the son of a former NHL player, the team’s captain, head and assistant coaches and a radio announcer.
Police have not yet confirmed their names, but family members and others have identified the following victims:
The Broncos’ head coach had played in the junior hockey league in the 1990s. Tributes on Twitter described him as a great person, coach and mentor.
"He will always be a great man in our hearts," said his sister, who posted on Twitter under the name Debbie Jayne. "The tears just keep coming."
Steven Wilson, a radio play-by-play announcer, called Haugan "the classiest guy" in the league. The last time they saw each other, Haugan was playing video games in his office with one of his two young sons.
"He was very dedicated to his family and at the same time he was a hockey guy," Wilson said.
Haugan’s wife, Christina George-Haugan, is the team’s office manager.
The bus driver for Charlie’s Charters, the official carrier for more than a half-dozen hockey teams, spent a good deal of his time shuttling players between rinks, often in bad weather, said Kris Babbings, manager of the Kinistino Tigers, on Twitter.
"Our trips to Foam Lake and Allan were on horrible highways due to winter storms," Babbings said. "We got on that bus and trusted him with our lives and both times he got us home safely. Tragically yesterday he and many others didn’t make it home and our hearts are broken for your families and friends."
Babbings said he’d never forget the smile on Doerksen’s face after the Tigers won their championship in Allan last month. The team asked the driver to honk his horn twice "for the cup."
"Tonight, Glen, we give two honks for you," he wrote. "Rest easy sir."
The assistant coach was from Strasbourgh, Saskatchewan where he was named most valuable player last year while playing with the Maroons in the Highway Hockey League.
"I can honestly say I didn’t know a more kind-hearted, generous, caring and overall nice person," cousin Graeme Cross said in an online tribute.
"Mark was one of those people that just made you feel safe and brought a special spark when you were in his presence."
Joseph, 20, the son of former NHL player Chris Joseph, was among the leading scorers in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoffs.
His death was confirmed by the Surrey Eagles, his former team in the British Columbia Hockey League.
The center on his line, Logan Schatz, who was also killed, had praised Joseph and fellow victim Conner Lukan on the team’s website in January.
"I’ve really clicked with Joseph and Lukan," Schatz said. "I can’t say enough good things about them."
The four-year veteran of the Broncos was captain for 2 ½ years. Schatz, 20, played center and was the league’s player of the month in February after earning eight points in nine games.
His father, Kelly Schatz, said his family was seeking comfort from each other.
"It’s hard," his father said. "I’ve got four other kids and they’re here, which is nice."
Conner Lukan, 21, of Slave Lake, Alberta, played with the St. Albert Raiders and Spruce Grove Saints in the Alberta Junior Hockey League before joining the Broncos last year.
The Saints announced Lukan’s death on Twitter, along with three other alumni: Stephen Wack, Jaxon Joseph and Logan Hunter.
It was Bieber’s first season as the team’s play-by-play announcer for Humboldt radio station CHBO, where he also covered news.
Steven Wilson, a co-worker in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, said it was Bieber’s first season announcing for the team. He also covered morning news.
"He definitely had a natural talent," said Wilson. "He was just passionate about sports."
Wilson said he filled in a few times for Bieber because the announcer was also busy coaching the Humboldt high school’s basketball and football teams.
The defenseman, 21, had played two seasons with the Broncos and "absolutely lived and breathed hockey," his cousin Alicia Wack said.
"Stephen has always been an amazing person, son, big brother, and cousin," she said on Facebook. "He is one of the most adventurous, ambitious, and loving people that I have ever been blessed to know."
Labelle, 18, was described by his brother, Isaac, as a best friend, teammate, ally and brother.
"I have no words to describe what I’m feeling," Isaac Labelle wrote. "We’ve been through so much together. We had a special bond from the day you were born."
The 18-year-old rookie was remembered as an excellent player devoted to hockey, according to a news release from the Kelowna Rockets.
His father, Scott Thomas, was captain of the Tacoma Rockets in the 1991-92 Western Hockey League season.
Evan, from Saskatoon, was the "kind of kid any dad would be proud to call his own," said his father.
"He was a self-driven, motivated, retrospective, quiet, confident and very self-assured young man."
It was the 18-year-old’s first season as a forward with the Humboldt Broncos.
His dad says he was an athlete, playing both hockey and baseball, and a strong student.
"He liked sports, but at times I think he tolerated sports so he could be a teammate," said Scott Thomas. "He just loved being a teammate. He loved his teammates and I think that was more important to him than the actual sport he was playing.
"He loved those boys. He really loved those boys," he said.
Hinz, a high school student, was an 18-year-old intern for the radio station that covered the team and kept their statistics. He was being mentored by Bieber and others, said Lydon Frieson, president of Golden West Radio, in a statement posted on the station’s website.
"Tragedy has hit our community and it reaches into every corner of life in Humboldt," Frieson said.
The defenseman was a week shy of turning 17 and had only played with the Broncos for two weeks. He was the youngest member on the team.
He was sent to join the Broncos for the playoffs after his previous team, the Regina Pat Canadians, finished their season, said John Smith, his former team’s manager.
"He was a wonderful young man. Never afraid to help his teammates. Always there for them. Good, typical Saskatchewan farm boy. Always load the bus, unload the bus, never afraid to roll up his sleeves and get work done," Smith said.
Smith also said Herold was a good leader and had been captain of the Pat Canadians.
He is survived by his mom, dad and an older sister, Smith said.
Boulet, who signed his organ donor card when he turned 21 a few weeks ago, was remembered for his kindness.
"He is a great hero and one of the nicest people you would have been lucky enough to meet," said Boulet’s godfather, Neil Langevin, on Facebook.
Langevin said matches had been made for all of Boulet’s vital organs and that Boulet’s family would stay by his side until surgery begins at 2 a.m. local time. Langevin also said that his other organs would be donated to science.
"These actions alone give voice to the selfless and benevolent nature Logan possessed in life for others," he said.
Hunter’s death was confirmed by his former team, the St. Albert Raiders.
The organization’s president, Kevin Porter, said he heard the news from Hunter’s mother.
"He always had a smile on his face," said Porter, who described Hunter as a "smart kid and a great hockey player" with a "great sense of humor."
Leicht was a forward on the Humboldt Broncos. He was 19 years old.
"My heart is broken. Your laughter was so contagious and you had a smile that lit up any room. I wish we had more time … it seems so unfair," said Cassidy Tolley in a Facebook post Saturday, according to local media.