Trent Kresse. Scott Kruger. Chris Mantyka. Brent Ruff. These hockey players certainly aren't legends of the game. They never had the chance to be.
On December 30th, 1986, the Swift Current Bronco's team bus crashed en route to snowy Regina. The driver lost control of the massive vehicle, skidding off an overpass and landing on a side road. Joe Sakic and Sheldon Kennedy, the only two to-be NHLers on the team, were sitting in the front row, and escaped unscathed. Kresse, Kruger, Mantyka and Ruff, the younger brother of Buffalo Sabres' Lindy Ruff, were playing cards in the very back of the bus. All four died.
It was one of the darkest days in junior hockey history. The Broncos organization and the WHL made sure to never forget the 4 victims. Seemingly the whole city turned out for a memorial service. A touching memorial remains at Centennial Civic Center, home of the Broncos. The players jersey numbers are retired permanently. The WHL renamed it's coveted Player of the Year award as the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy.
While the Broncos and WHL were applauded for their handling of this most difficult situation, Gare Joyce at ESPN.com reports that 20 years later a deaf ear was turned when discussions of a 20th anniversary memorial service should happen this season.
Joyce goes on to tie the memorial with the sick legacy of coach Graham James, and how these two incidents in particular have created a curious relationship between the wounded town and hockey. Here in the heartland of rural hockey, a city and its hockey team are supposed to be greatly intertwined. But the residents of the town also referred to as Speedy Creek have shunned the Broncos.
All in all, the ESPN.com special is a fantastic read by Gare Joyce, the leading writer on junior hockey. I encourage all of you to take the time to enjoy this amazing read.