At least 14 killed in bus crash involving Canadian junior hockey team

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(CNN) — A small town in Canada’s Saskatchewan province was in mourning Saturday after a bus carrying a junior hockey team collided with a tractor-trailer, leaving 14 people dead and at least 15 injured.

The mayor of Humboldt, Rob Muench, told CNN partner CBC the whole town is grieving.

“It was horrifying,” he said. “It’s going to hit the community hard.”

Members of the Humboldt Broncos were headed to the town of Nipawin for a playoff game Friday night when the crash happened north of Tisdale, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.

Three of the 15 injured people were in critical condition, the RCMP said. Authorities have not identified the victims and would not confirm whether they were players, coaches or the driver of the truck. Twenty-nine people were on the bus.

The RCMP previously reported 28 people were on the bus and 14 were injured.

The tragedy sent shock waves throughout Canada, where hockey is the dominant sport and making long bus rides to tournaments is a rite of passage for young players.

Cam Talbot, goalie for the Edmonton Oilers in the National Hockey League, tweeted: “After all the hours spent on a bus with the boys over the years this one really hits home. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and communities affected by this horrible tragedy. #PrayersForHumboldt”

Humboldt, a town of about 6,000, has a long tradition of fielding teams in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

The Broncos, like other teams in the league, attract players from different parts of Canada who stay with host families during the hockey season, the team’s website said.

Humboldt players range in age from 16 to 21, according to an online team roster. Thirteen of the 24 players listed on the roster come from Saskatchewan, with two from Humboldt. Most of the others list their hometowns as being in the province of Alberta.

“Our thoughts and prayers are extended to the families of our staff and athletes as well as to all who have been impacted by this horrible tragedy,” Kevin Garinger, the team’s president, said in a statement. “Our Broncos family is in shock as we try to come to grips with our incredible loss.”

In Humboldt, people showed up at the Elgar Petersen Arena to offer support, according to CNN partner CBC. Daigon Elny, a member of last year’s team, told CBC, “We were a family. You come to the rink … what’s better than that?

“Now I don’t know what goes on now.”

A gathering place also was established for families at Nipawin Apostolic Church so they can find out information on their loved ones, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The Humboldt team was scheduled to play the Nipawin Hawks in the fifth game of a best-of-seven semifinal playoff series Friday. The teams earlier played a lengthy game Wednesday that Nipawin won 6-5 in three overtimes in Humboldt, leaving Nipawin with a 3-1 series lead.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his condolences on Twitter to the victims of the crash.

“I cannot imagine what these parents are going through, and my heart goes out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy, in the Humboldt community and beyond,” Trudeau tweeted.

Notes of sympathy poured in on social media from the hockey world.

“We send condolence, comfort and strength to all affected by the devastating crash involving the Humboldt Broncos’ team bus,” the National Hockey League tweeted.

Friday’s crash is not the first highway accident to kill hockey players in Saskatchewan. Four members of the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League died in a 1986 crash in the western province, CBC reported.

A memorial to those players was erected at the crash site in 2016.​

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