Editor's note: After this article was published, Saskatchewan's Ministry of Justice announced there had been a mistake identifying players and Parker Tobin died in the crash, while Xavier Labelle, who was reported dead, is among the injured survivors. UPDATE: Body in bus crash misidentified, Xavier Labelle is alive, Parker Tobin dead
Glenn Littlejohn wanted to text his friend. But was afraid about what he might hear.
Littlejohn had grown up in Bay Roberts with Ed Tobin, who is the father of Parker Tobin, an 18-year-old goaltender with the Humboldt Broncos, the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team devastated by a Friday-night crash that left 15 of the 29 on the team’s bus dead and the remainder injured, some of them critically.
Parker Tobin is among those who survived, but Littlejohn didn’t know that when he first learned of the horrific incident through a TSN report.
“I knew Parker was playing with Humboldt, and my first thoughts went to Ed and (his wife) Rhonda and Parker,” said Littlejohn. “But I didn’t know (his status), and in one way, you don’t want to know. You’re afraid of what you will find out.”
He did eventually send a text message to Ed Tobin, who said that while his son had been seriously injured, he was alive and being treated a Saskatoon hospital.
“Ed told me (Parker) is badly broken up, that it’s easier to say what isn’t broken. But as hard as it is to say, as bad as he is, Ed says he’s one of the lucky ones, because he’s got a chance (to recover).
“He can go a door down and there’s another player who is probably paralyzed for life.
“And then there are all of the others.”
Nine of Tobin’s teammates on the Broncos were killed in the crash. Another passed away after being taken off life support in hospital. The head coach and one of his assistants died, as did the team’s broadcaster, statistician and the bus driver.
“I sit here and think about all the times I’ve been on a bus going to a ball tournament or a hockey tournament,” said Littlejohn, a member of the Softball Newfoundland and Labrador Hall of Fame as a player and a longtime coach in softball and hockey
“You never thought about it. It’s the ways and means of getting from place to place, of course, but some of the fondest memories for coaches and athletes are of the bus rides or (with smaller numbers) a van ride.
“You’ve heard in the news media over the last couple of days about the bonds made on the buses taking those trips, and it’s so true.”
Littlejohn was the MHA for Port de Grave between 2011 and 2015, but before that, was a recreation and sports consultant with the province.
“I think about all the provincial Games I’ve helped organize. You have 12 or 13 different buses going on a Wednesday or a Saturday. All told, there were probably 50 round trips for each Games. Safety is always a first thought. You want to protect those kids and make them as safe as possible, but you never thought anything like (the Broncos crash) could happen.
“And you can't imagine how all those families are feeling.”
Littlejohn said Ed Tobin is like a brother to him.
“We grew up together, literally a stone’s throw apart. We had the same group of friends. We played hockey together. We played ball together. We were roommates through university (at Memorial).
“My mom thought of him as her own.”
After university, Ed Tobin moved to Alberta — “we took him to the airport when he left,” recalled Littlejohn — where he met and married Rhonda Clarke, who had grown up in the western province, but had been born in Conception Bay North and still has a large circle of family in the Victoria area.
“We stayed in contact through the last 25 or 30 years. When there was news or things that needed to be talked about, we stayed in touch,” said Littlejohn, who met Parker (and his older brother) once when he was about seven, when the Tobins visited CBN on vacation.
“But you got the know the boys through conversations over the years with Ed and Rhonda.”
That had Littlejohn following the hockey career of Parker, who played with minor teams in the Edmonton area — the Tobins live in Stony Plain, Alta. — before moving on to the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2017. But an interleague trade in late November saw Tobin dealt from the AJHL’s Drayton Valley Thunder to Humboldt, where he thrived, posting a 2.40 goals-against average in 22 regular-season games and doing even better in five playoff contests, with a 1.92 GAA and .941 save percentage.
But today, stats or on-ice successes mean nothing to the Tobins, who are in Saskatoon with their son.
“I was texting with them for about 36 hours, but in a text, you don’t get a sense of how they are really doing,” said Littlejohn. “But I was actually talking to Ed (Sunday) and after hearing his voice, I could tell he was in a positive frame of mind, or as best as you could be in the situation.
“He and Rhonda are still trying to absorb it all, trying to cope with all everything that has happened and is going on.
“They did say they are not in want of anything and that the outpouring of support from people in the hospital and from the people in the community has been overwhelming.
“And they say the doctors and nurses have been awesome. I know that gives them peace of mind, and it gave me a lot of peace of mind to hear that.
“It’s such as sad situation and there is so much grief. Your heart bleeds on one side for all those who have been lost and for their loved ones.
“On the other side, it’s filled with thanks that your friends still have their son.”
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