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Rob Vanstone: Humboldt Broncos' home playoff opener was something to savour

HUMBOLDT, Sask. —

Jamie Brockman’s understated tribute to his beloved Humboldt Broncos was ideally suited to the occasion on Monday night.

As is his custom, the Humboldt Broncos’ president wore a team jersey, bearing the number 46, to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League game at Elgar Petersen Arena.

The “46” references 4/6 — the date of a tragic accident that claimed the lives of 16 of the 29 people who were aboard the Broncos’ bus.

“Everybody was buying the jerseys for support,” Brockman recalled Monday before the 2018-19 Broncos’ home playoff opener against the Estevan Bruins. “We were able to choose numbers and sayings for what we wanted on the back.

“I was trying to think of what number to put on there, and 46 jumped at me for April 6. It doesn’t jump out, yet it’s there. It’s kind of a reminder of that day.”

“WE R BRONCOS” appears on the nameplate, above the familiar “#HUMBOLDTSTRONG” on the back of his sweater.

“I’ve worn this jersey to every game but one,” Brockman noted. “I wore a third jersey to one game, but every game I come to, this is my jersey. It’s got the Humboldt Broncos on the front and I remember last year’s team on the back.”

Another reminder is the Broncos’ choice of hair colour for the playoffs.

Most players have opted for the blonde look, emulating the 2017-18 team. One exception is Brayden Camrud — one of only two returnees from last season — whose hair is the Broncos’ dominant team colour, green.

Camrud drew an assist on the Broncos’ first goal — a Josh Patrician shot that eluded goaltender Grant Boldt — when the SJHL playoffs returned to Humboldt on Monday.

The game was a landmark — another opportunity to celebrate the Broncos’ successful season. However, the team made a point of not drawing any additional attention to the significance of the contest, beyond its playoff implications.

“We need the players to be focused on the series and on the task at hand,” Brockman said. “To do a bunch of stuff at the beginning of the game … we talked about it, but decided not to.

“We decided, ‘Let’s just focus on hockey here tonight and let the boys do what they need to do,’ and that’s score one more goal than Estevan.”

There wasn’t any fanfare, other than the typical preamble to a playoff game.

In many ways, it could have been any other arena in any other community on a Monday night. It was another sign of a return to normalcy in Humboldt.

There was the usual assortment of Thunderstix, horns and (please note technical term) some spinning thingie that makes a really loud clicking sound.

More cowbell? Absolutely.

When the Broncos scored, as they did often Monday en route to winning 6-3, the response was thunderous. With 53.5 seconds left, the home team’s fans stood up and chatted “Go Broncos Go!” as the time ticked away in Game 3.

A boisterous contingent of Estevan fans had also made themselves heard when the Bruins tallied.

It was, simply put, an electrifying and enjoyable night at the rink — one that this community richly deserves.

Even though Camrud and Derek Patter are the only incumbents, the Broncos have been able to assemble a strong team.

Rebuilt virtually from scratch, the Broncos nonetheless posted a 35-19-3-1 regular-season record and posted the fifth-highest winning percentage (.638) in the 12-team league.

Humboldt began the playoffs with a road victory, defeating Estevan 4-1 on Friday, before Saturday’s 4-2 Bruins win evened the best-of-seven quarter-final. The series then shifted to Humboldt for games Monday and Tuesday.

This time, there weren’t any network TV cameras at Elgar Petersen Arena — unlike the Broncos’ regular-season opener, which was televised live by TSN on Sept. 12.

The Stanley Cup was in Humboldt for the opening of training camp, along with an assortment of current and former NHL players.

On Monday, by contrast, the Estevan Bruins were the visitors of note.

The 2018-19 Broncos’ highest-stakes home game to date was simply, appropriately that — a game.

From the opening faceoff to the final buzzer, everything just seemed perfect … right down to the surname on the back of the visiting goaltender’s jersey.

BOLDT.

By Rob Vanstone

rvanstone@postmedia.com

twitter.com/robvanstone

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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