Kelowna Rockets’ forward Erik Gardiner feels effects of hometown Humboldt tragedy
Erik Gardiner, forward for the Kelowna Rockets, is still feeling the effects of the bus crash that shocked his hometown of Humboldt.
The 19-year-old was born and raised in Humboldt and played for the Broncos in the 2016-2017 season. After making the Regina Pats a year earlier, Gardiner was sent to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) club to help him transition to the Western Hockey League (WHL).
“It was awesome, just coming back from the Western Hockey League I was a little bit disappointed but Humboldt brought me in and gave me every chance to succeed,” Gardiner said.
“The Broncos organization is just awesome, the boys were great and thankful for bringing me in. Obviously had great players, we had a pretty good team last year and just the coaches and Darcy (former head coach and general manager) was amazing,” he said.
“He was an amazing man, he was really good for my development and built my confidence back up to get to Kelowna,” Gardiner said. “It was a really good experience for me.”
He said Darcy Haugan, coach and general manager of the Broncos who died in the April 6 crash, and Broncos players played a big part in his transition back into the WHL.
“Honestly it was everything for me, just having so much more confidence, getting to play, Humboldt gave me the opportunity to play with some really good players, and the guys helped me out,” Gardiner said.
“They knew I was struggling when I came down and obviously with Darcy he knew what he was doing and for some reason it just clicked with Darcy,” he said. “I did pretty well in Humboldt, I was pretty sad to leave because Humboldt is my hometown and I had so much fun there. I made the decision and I have to live with that but it was amazing though.”
Gardiner said Haugan can’t be easily replaced because of what the coach did inside and outside the rink for the Broncos and the community.
“He would be out talking to people, trying to make his team and community better. You can’t replace a guy like that,” he said.
”Just the hockey side of things, he was so smart and had a hockey brain with what he was doing with (playing) systems. He really brought the Broncos back, before he was there they weren’t doing really well for a couple years,” Gardiner said. “They obviously made the conference finals and you never know what could have happened in that series and he was really good.”
The tragedy has impacted Gardiner and his family in more ways than one.
“It’s just been crazy for myself, I knew a lot of the guys. When I came home at Christmas I hung out with the team again, got to meet some of the new guys that I didn’t get to meet last year, but I knew a lot of the older guys that passed away,” Gardiner said.
“Morgan Gobeil, Jacob Leicht, Layne Matechuk, those guys in the hospital, I know all those guys and the local guys so naturally it affected myself and my family. My parents are both teachers, they taught the local guys and my dad coached quite a few of my teammates that played for Humboldt so that was tough for him for sure,” he said.
“Just the community, it brought us together and it’s tough for a community that has 6,500 people and it was a shock because the whole world was looking at us through a microscope. I am very proud to say that I am from here and that everyone has done a great job dealing with everything, it’s awesome to see the support from everybody for Humboldt for sure.”
The Broncos organization said it intends on icing a new team for next season. And Gardiner, who had the chance to watch his former team play after the Rockets were eliminated from the WHL playoffs, is hopeful for the future.
”This year we lost earlier so I got to come home and watch (the Broncos’) Game Four at home which went to triple overtime and it was a pretty crazy game to watch them,” he said. “Hopefully I will be able to get out and watch a couple games and see how their new team is looking.”