RALEIGH, N.C. – Brad Lauer grew up in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, a small, hockey-loving town of about 5,000. He played junior hockey for the Humboldt Broncos, riding buses as they crisscrossed the province to road games.
The Lightning assistant coach is well aware of Highway 35 and the dangers that lurk where the Broncos team bus was struck by a semitrailer truck about 5 Friday night while traveling to a playoff game at Nipawin.
"I know it well," Lauer said. "It's not a safe corner."
The crash had killed 15 people who were on the bus by Saturday afternoon and injured 14, some critically.
"It's devastating for the community," Lauer, 51, said Saturday afternoon before the season-ending game against the Hurricanes. "Any time you lose some kids like that, it's devastating. It kind of hits home because I think everyone has been on these buses. Whether your kids played basketball or hockey, you sent your kids away on buses, you expect them to be safe, and something like this happens."
The team plays in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, an "A" league open to North American-born players between the ages of 16 and 20.
Canada and the hockey world mourned the loss of young lives as thoughts and prayers were sent to the families.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Trump tweeted their condolences. NHL players, coaches and broadcasters did as well.
Some of the players were from Humboldt, but many were from other towns and living with billet families, working and going to school, ingraining themselves in the community.
"It's going to affect the community big time," Lauer said.
Lauer said he grew up attending Broncos games and played for the team briefly when he was 15 before moving up to major juniors. The Humboldt program, which has won a pair of national titles, has sent many players to NCAA colleges in the United states and produced a number of NHL players.
"(The Broncos are) everything," Lauer said. "That team goes way back. There's a lot of history."
Lauer's parents and the parents of his wife, Daria, live in Humboldt. He and Daria go there several weeks every year to visit family and friends.
Daria texted her husband about the accident during Friday's Lighting game against the Sabres. Lauer has been texting and calling friends in his hometown to get more news.
"It's pretty chaotic right now," he said. "We're playing wait-and-see. We're not saying too much. We want to know the facts first."
Bus rides are a part of life for every athletic team.
"I grew up on them. We all travel on buses," Lauer said. "There's been a lot of nights when you're on the roads and it's a bad road, but you're on a bus, you feel safe. You feel you're doing the right thing. But unfortunately accidents do happen. It's sad."
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