Heart Wrenching, Beautiful Humboldt Tribute

A letter Dedicated to those who have been affected by the tragedy that occured in Saskatchewan on April 6th, 2018.

One Last Ride: Jason Lindner

It was a frosty Friday morning on April 6th, 2018. I woke up and got right into my routine, just like every other morning. I had breakfast, hopped in the shower, got dressed, did my hair and headed to school. But school wasn’t on my mind today. It’s game day. Game 5 of our semi-finals against Nipawin, to be precise. And we’re down three games to one. This is a must-win game if we’re to stay alive in the series.

After what seemed like an exceptionally long day of classes, I headed home, had a quick meal, changed into my suit and packed my duffle bag with bus trip essentials. This included snacks, water, headphones, a road pillow and, of course, I made sure my phone was fully charged and my music library was stocked with my favourite tunes.

I bid a quick “See ya later” to my billet parents and siblings as they wished me luck, and I headed to the rink for our pre-game skate. Coach had the lineup posted in the room for tonight’s crucial game. Coaches Darcy and Cross prepared us for our breakout options, our power-play was organized and effective, and our penalty kill was on point. The boys and I knew what was at stake. I could feel the focus, determination and confidence on the ice. After a quick pep talk at centre ice, we knew we were ready. We headed to Nipawin to win and force a Game 6 at home.

After a quick shower, I packed my bag, making sure I hadn’t forgotten anything and headed to the bus. As a rookie, I helped pack our team supplies (skate sharpener, trainer’s kit, stick bag, water bottles, etc). I grabbed my duffle bag and found my unofficially reserved seat on the bus – right behind the coaches with the other rookies. The rookies sat at the front while the vets found comfort in the middle and towards the back, and the Captains and 20-year-olds held the back of the bus. This seating arrangement is typical of any junior hockey team bus.

We’ve taken 36 other bus trips so far this year, but today felt a little different. This could be our last bus ride together and we didn’t want it to be over just yet. We needed to win and we were going to win!

The bus is like our second home. It’s strictly reserved for coaches, players, our trainer, team play-by-play and our volunteer statistician. We’re a family. We spend so much time travelling to and from games, and we trust Glen, our driver, to get us safely to the rink and home each night while navigating the weather on slick wintery rural Saskatchewan highways; he’s family too. And today’s no different. The bus is where we do most of our team bonding as we get to know each other. We talk about our pasts, share our future goals and dreams, laugh and tell stories together. We discuss our worries and fears, we reveal our secrets, we talk about our feelings and we all trust each other. These guys are my brothers – we’re truly family!

As we pulled out of the Elgar Petersen Arena parking lot and headed onto the road, the boys and I were getting comfortable for the 2-hour-and-12-minute trip up Highway 35 towards Nipawin – a route we’ve travelled endless times before.

Whether we’re listening to our favourite pump-up songs, focusing on staying loose by chatting or playing cards, playing games, enjoying a nap or watching videos or shows on our phones, everyone has their own routine.

After about 10 minutes, the bus is starting to quiet down as the boys and I settle into our seats. As always, the coaches and staff are chatting upfront, checking analytical stats, and preparing game cards and lineups.

Much like every other road trip, I’m snapping friends from school and back home, and even some of the boys at the back of the bus. I’m also checking up on Instagram and Twitter feeds of the latest NCAA signings and other hockey news. I’m texting back and forth with family and friends, and telling my girlfriend I’m going to score one for her as she talks about her annoying teacher.

My parents are my biggest supporters and they tell me that, no matter what, they’re proud of me and believe in me and my teammates.

It’s a nervous, yet exciting, bus ride. I can’t deny that I’m anxious because this could be my last bus ride with this group of boys – my family. The fear of losing is weighing on me, yet I feel ready. The boys are ready, the coaches are ready, and we have a good feeling about this one. We’re heading into Nipawin to win.

Since we know the route and approximately how far away we are from the Centennial Arena in Nipawin, I begin eating my granola bars and continue to hydrate. The nerves and jitters are really picking up steam now. I’m excited and I can’t wait to get out there. I want to stand on the blue line and look at the Canadian flag while the anthem is playing. I long to hear the roar of the crowd – the boos, chants and overall energy in the building. I’m getting fired up. I love the pressure. I excel under pressure, as it motivates and inspires me.

Now past Leacross, we know we’re about 30 minutes away, and the energy starts to pick up on the bus. Some guys are beginning to get restless, while another group it trying to sleep a little longer. The coaches are getting excited too. Some of the guys start to stand up, tuck in their dress shirts, and tighten up their ties and belts. Some of the boys are just waking up from their power naps. I’m wired and ready. We’re ready!

My parents are wishing me luck, saying they’ll be listening to the game on the radio and telling me to kick ass. I tell them I’ll text them after the game. I snap one more friend. As we approach SK-335, I suddenly hear tire screeches and screams… and then nothing.

We didn’t make it to Nipawin. We never made it off that bus.

I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye or I love you, and I never told my family or friends how much I cherish their love, compassion and support. I had no idea this bus trip would be our last ride together. I never expected this to be the final destination.

No one on that bus could have predicted the outcome that day. No one could have anticipated what was coming down the road directly in our path. No one.

Now I’m in heaven, side by side with some of my brothers and sister looking down at the faces of disbelief, shock, sadness, confusion of my family, friends, the entire hockey world and all of Canada. I’m looking down at my brothers and sister who’re still fighting to survive. I’m looking down at red and white flashing lights attending the scene. I’m looking down at the public and medical responders trying to help as many of my family as they can. I hear the crying and moaning. I hear the breathes of my comrades. I see a few of the boys walking around confused. I see utter and complete chaos.

Myself and every single person on that bus is asking why this happened. Why me? Why my brothers and staff? How did this become our final destination? Why did this have to be our last ride?

And then the what ifs. What if we had left a couple minutes earlier… or a couple minutes later? What if we had taken a different route? What if, what if, what if? There are no answers.

Fate had its way, making this our last ride together. We wouldn’t make it to the rink, we wouldn’t win Game 5 and force a Game 6, and most of us wouldn’t see or speak to each other ever again.

My biggest regrets – both as a hockey player and as a young man – are not having a chance to express how much love I have for my family, billet family and friends. Why? Because no one would have ever imagined the devastation that lurked down that highway. No one could have predicted that we wouldn’t suit up in our hockey gear ever again. No one expected that our untimely deaths would come while we were in the safety and confinement of our bus, which was a second home to us, on the way to do something we all loved. This bus trip was just like all the others, until the unthinkable happened.

Please mom and dad, don’t hate the driver of the truck. Don’t live the rest of your lives in pain and sorrow. There was nothing you could have done. It’s not your fault. It’s okay to weep for me and what could have been. It’s normal to be heartbroken and it’ll take time to heal. But please remember I died while on the way to do something I loved. Please know that you raised me right, believe that you’re great parents and know that I love and appreciate everything you’ve done for me.

You’re amazing parents and I couldn’t have asked for a better life than what you provided. Thank you for all your support while I pursued my dreams. Although I may not be physically here with you any longer, please take comfort in knowing I’m always here in spirit watching over you.

Please talk to me during your prayers. I hear you.

Please find peace knowing that I’m okay, I didn’t suffer and I did not go alone.

Please find it within you to forgive the drivers of the bus and truck, and please forgive God and Jesus for taking me too soon. It was my time.

Please know that I’ve always loved you and appreciate all the times we’ve spent together. I cherish all the phone calls, text messages and memories we’ve built together.

I’m in heaven now with my brothers and coaches, trainer and Brody. We’re safe, pain-free and at peace. Please find the strength to continue to live your lives to the fullest. Don’t worry about me, but please think of me often. And know a part of me is always here with you.

It’s normal to feel helpless and alone, but please take comfort in each other, our family, the community of Humboldt and the entire country. Know that, although it’ll be tough, your lives must go on. Please find strength to talk about your feelings to others, seek out professionals to help you through difficult times and do your best to accept that I’m no longer here.

Whatever you need to do to remember me, please do it. I hear you and I’m with you. Do whatever you need to do to get through this, but please don’t hold on to the heartache forever. I want you to be at peace too. Remember me and let my spirit live on in all the great times we shared.

My brothers, sister and I feel the love, compassion and support that the Humboldt community, SJHL, the province of Saskatchewan, all of Canada and the entire hockey world have expressed. We see the candles lit for us, we see the hockey sticks left on the doorsteps in our honour, we see the #prayforhumboldt signs and jerseys, we hear the GO, BRONCOS GO! chants across the globe, and we appreciate all of it. We have all we need here now, teammates, coaches, trainers, stats guy, sticks and mentors who have come before us to lead our way.

Please find strength and continue to raise our siblings with love and compassion. Support them fully in whatever they do. They need you and you need them more than ever.

We all know how sad this is and that it wasn’t expected, but my brothers, sister and I are at peace. We’re wearing the green and yellow with pride. We’re all forever a Bronco and I’m forever your son.

I love you mom and dad forever and always,

Your Son