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The four broncos: the story of the tragic bus accident that killed four hockey players

A deafening silence is felt throughout the hockey world and beyond.

On December 30, 1986 at 3:45 p.m., the unthinkable happened. Two days after the Christmas break, the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos were embarking on a two-and-a-half-hour trip to Regina, Saskatchewan, when their team’s bus, a 1968 Western Flyer, pulled out of the highway overpass and collided with a sign. then it slid down the nose of an embankment first. It flew approximately 50 feet in the air, landing on its side as it skidded to a stop.

Four players were dead: Scott Kruger, Trent Kresse, Brent Ruff and Chris Mantyka.

The scene was chaotic. The ditch was littered with sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, and personal items. Two ambulances were going to and from Swift Current Union Hospital, and police waved passing motorists to help transport the less seriously injured to medical attention.

The day before, the temperatures were unusually warm, almost T-shirt weather, but there was a weather advisory in effect at the time of the accident: cold and snowstorm. The club’s regular coach, Gord Hahn, was in Winnipeg with Team Western, a pre-Olympic scouting program with player Dan Lambert. Ryan McGill also missed the trip due to a bout of tonsillitis.

The plan was to have the bus loaded and ready by 3:00 PM to arrive at the Regina track at 6:45. However, Scotty Kruger forgot her dress clothes and was ordered to go home to find her. (Players often traveled in comfortable clothing and then changed on the bus when they reached their destination.)

The bus itself probably needed repair. He still had the old green and blue from when he served the Lethbridge, Alberta team. There was no toilet on board, some of the windows were taped up and the seats had tears and lots of stains.

Dave Archibald (who was acquitted of any negligence) had just parked the bus at the bend of the overpass onto the freeway when it hit a chunk of black ice. Next, inside the bus was a scene from a horror movie.

One of the players, dressed in shorts, a shirt and no shoes, was knocked out and woke up on top of another. The bus was on its side. In search of his shoes, he returned to where he was sitting, lifted a seat that had been ripped off and saw the legs of a teammate, whose torso had been buried under the bus. He then discovered another player, whose upper body was immobilized with his legs under the bus, his arms outstretched for help as he died in front of him.

Kruger and Kresse played on the same line, had adjacent lockers, were friends, and were always together. They were found two feet apart. At the time, the two were tied for second in team scoring, behind Joe Sakic.

Sakic exited the bus climbing over the broken windshield.

“He was sitting in the front of the bus. Sheldon Kennedy and I were probably talking about the Christmas break we just had.”

The four players were playing cards in the back of the bus. The coroner said they died of spinal cord trauma.

Regina’s game was canceled, as were three more.

“It was the middle of the year, so it was difficult to start the season again,” adds Sakic. “That was tough, the first game back. The following season, we did really well. I think we finished second or third and got knocked out in the second round.

“It brought the whole city even closer together. Everyone from day one was so good to all the players. It was our first year there. They tried to make us feel at home. Even after that, they bonded even more.” “

Memorial service

About 4,000 attended the service held at the Swift Current Centennial Civic Center on January 4, 1987. All WHL divisions and teams were represented by players and officials. Each player was buried in their hometown.

Sadly, the Kruger’s uncle Herman Kruger (67) suffered a fatal heart attack on the way to the funeral.

The consequences

Over the next two seasons, the Broncos set several team and league records and won the Memorial Cup in 1988-89.

According to one of the parents, there was no insurance or psychological help.

Many players had a bad time. Some became reckless and ran like crazy around town, gave up hockey, got depressed, or held back their emotions. Everyone remains haunted by the experience.

Joe Sakic kept it to himself. He will rarely talk about it. “The best was during practices and games, that was the best time to escape. You only concentrated on hockey.

“It was the first time a tragedy had happened in my life. A kind of reality is reflected. You are a little more careful about the things you decide to do. You consider the options, I guess.”

This incident was the first fatal accident in WHL history, but not the first close call. Freezing rain caused the Kamloops Chiefs bus to crash in the mid-1970s and the Victoria Cougars bus to roll near Butte, Montana in 1980. Another bus carrying a group of Canadian Pacific railroad workers crashed and claimed 22 lives near Swift Current, just six years before the Bronco crash.

Fortunately, teams are more cautious these days. Brad Curle, director of public relations for Calgary Hitmen, has spoken to some hosts about it. “The weight of the bus has almost increased to the point where it is virtually impossible for it to roll off the road. I guess from the way it is designed and structured, it just hugs the road.”

Equipment, for the most part, charter. Of the few teams that have buses, they are newer models, more than 2000 and renewed.

Since the Bronco incident, the Western Hockey League has placed a great emphasis on safety. “If the road is not good, the games are canceled,” adds Curle. “It is no longer absolutely necessary to trudge through the snow. Teams are more willing to cancel games.”

Accident victims

# 9 Scott Kruger: center, born March 31, 1967 in Swift Current, Saskatchewan … played one year with the Prince Albert Raiders … in 36 games, scored 19 goals, 37 assists for 56 points and 32 minutes of penalty

# 11 Brent Ruff: Left Wing, Born February 17, 1970 in Warburg, Alberta … rookie season, in 33 games, scored three goals, three assists for six points and two minutes from penalties … a professional contract

# 22 Chris Mantyka: Left Wing, Born November 9, 1967 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan … rookie season, three goals, two assists for five points and 101 penalty minutes … held the Saskatchewan penalty record Junior Hockey League for 502 minutes. .. had just returned from a 3 game suspension

# 8 Trent Kresse – Left Wing, Born April 1, 1967 in Kindersley, Saskatchewan … Engaged to Marriage, Played Star Caliber Baseball for the Swift Current Indians … First Year with Swift Current but Second at WHL, in 30 games, he scored 28 goals, 28 assists for 56 points and 27 minutes of penalties

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