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Bemidjians hope to ‘Help Humboldt Heal’: Humboldt team to compete in Paul Bunyan hockey tourney

The Humboldt Broncos logo at center ice at the Edgar Peterson Arena in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, Canada April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Matt Smith

BEMIDJI -- Bemidji’s hockey community is hoping to help another in its time of loss.

A fundraiser organized by Bemidji community members will bring the Humboldt Broncos AA peewee team to the annual Paul Bunyan International Hockey Tournament later this month.

The Ralph Gracie American Legion Post 14 of Bemidji has led an effort to show support for the grieving Saskatchewan community through the Help Humboldt Heal fundraiser.

Sixteen people were killed and 13 were injured when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior A team of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League crashed en route to a playoff game on April 6, 2018.

The tragedy inspired tributes around the world and across the hockey community, including from NHL teams and players.

The local initiative has raised about $18,000 to pay for the peewee team’s trip to Bemidji.

“They had such a terrible tragedy,” said HHH organizer Jim Haskell. “It was just an idea that came to me that probably the nicest thing we could do would be to get their peewee team down here because our peewee tournament is the best one that’s put on here.”

“We’re incredibly humbled by the gratitude and opportunity to come down there and bring our group of 11- and 12-year-old kids to a special tournament, and to represent our community in a positive way,” said Humboldt AA peewee coach Maury Simoneau, “and more importantly, honoring the legacy that last year’s Bronco team has. Obviously terrible circumstances, and that is not the reason why we’re attending, but when the legion reached out and extended an invite to provide this experience for our team I thought it was a good opportunity for them.”

Haskell said the fundraising goal was set loosely at $20,000, but that the amount raised will be sufficient. Any extra money will be split equally between the Humboldt Minor Hockey Association and Bemidji Youth Hockey Association.

“The people on the Legion committee, they’re all connected with the American Legion members or the Legion Auxiliary and we’re all hockey parents,” Haskell said. “We’re kind of the older group but they’ve all been involved in hockey and have had their hearts in this project.”

“We’re all just so excited about this and so appreciative of what the committee there at the American Legion did to raise those monies to get the team to come,” said tournament chair John Carlson.

Much like Bemidji, hockey runs deep in Humboldt, a town of about 6,000 residents located 70 miles east of Saskatoon.

“The Broncos are really the pulse of our community,” Simoneau said. “All of our young people on minor hockey teams attend the games quite frequently, as do their parents.

“There’s really no words to describe the impact that it’s had on our community, moreso those directly impacted. … Our thoughts and prayers will always be with those who lost loved ones or are still dealing with the impacts from the accident.”

30 years of Paul Bunyan

The Paul Bunyan International Hockey Tournament, which is celebrating 30 years since its first event in 1988, will be held Dec. 28-30 at rinks across Bemidji.

Humboldt typically only competes in tournaments in its home province. The Broncos are, by far, the team from farthest away in the 16-team field with the only other Canadian team hailing from Dryden, Ont.

The A/AA peewee tournament field features 10 teams from Minnesota -- including Bemidji -- as well as four teams from North Dakota and the two Canadian squads.

An opening ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 28, at the Sanford Center. The parade of teams will include a 30th anniversary commemoration and a special presentation of a Bemidji State jersey to the Humboldt Broncos.

Games will begin later that day starting at noon.

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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