FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — While Canada and the rest of the hockey world mourn the loss of 15 members of the Humboldt Broncos in a crash last Friday night, former players colleagues and rivals are remembering the team’s bench boss and the positive impact he had on their lives.
Forty-two year-old Darcy Haugan was among 15 members of the Broncos that perished when their bus collided with a semi-truck while en route to Game 5 of their playoff series against the Nipawin Hawks late Friday afternoon. Haugan had served as the team’s head coach since joining shortly before the 2015-2016 hockey season. Prior to that, he coached the Peace River-based North Peace Navigators of the NWJHL for over 10 years.
Wesley Shipton, who recently won the NWJHL’s scoring title with the Dawson Creek Jr. Canucks for the second year in a row, played his first four Junior hockey games with the Grande Prairie Storm before joining the Broncos for the remainder of the 2015-16 season. The Jr. C’s assistant captain said he first found out about the tragedy, like many, via social media.
“I found out by something on Twitter, and then I messaged some of my old teammates right away to find out more,” said Shipton. “Riding a bus you always feel so safe you never think anything like this could happen. Some of my best memories come on the bus: bus scrums, rookie idol, story time in the back of the bus, the memories you make with all your teammates, you never think anything like this could ever happen.”
The Dawson Creek native, who turned 21 last month, said Haugan made a solid impression on him as coach as soon as he joined the team.
“You could tell he loved the game of hockey when he first started mentioning the team and the players, you could tell he loved his job and loved being around the guys.”
He said that he has particularly fond memories of team dinners at Haugan’s house, and all of his stories from his days playing hockey.
25-year-old Bud Dyck, who played in goal under Haugan when he was bench boss of the Navigators for two years, remembers how he gave him a second chance after he was tossed from the team during his first season for admittedly acting rebellious.
“I don’t know if I thought I deserved my spot for no reason or it was just arrogance, I was being late for practices, I’d miss the bus for road trips on a couple occasions. I can’t believe the length of the leash he gave me to begin with, but it just all added up and I ended up getting cut obviously from the team for all this stuff. I didn’t handle it very well. Darcy described it as a ‘messy divorce’ the way it went down. The following season, they were in need of goalies at the start of the year. In large part due to assistant coach Mike Fosty, Darcy agreed to give me another shot that year.”
Dyck said the second chance was a game-changer for him, and that he began to take the lessons Haugan was teaching his players to heart.
“I really learned to embrace his standpoint on how the community comes first for a Junior team like this. You never embarrass the team, you never embarrass the community. Through all this, we really created a tight bond and a long-lasting friendship. That season I came back and won Goalie of the Year that season for the league. That was the first year we had won the cup with the Navs in, I think, six years. That was pretty special to have been a part of that after everything that happened the previous year.”
After taking a year off due to an injury, Dyck said Haugan offered him a position as the team’s goaltending coach, spending the summer talking about the upcoming season. However, the two wouldn’t end up coaching together after Haugan was hired as the Broncos’ head coach on short notice. Dyck said that the atmosphere Haugan created in the team’s locker room was second-to-none.
“I’ve become friends with lots of people we played against in those years, and they all knew it, they all knew we had an advantage with the coaching staff that we had. That was headed by Darcy. The character he instilled within all of us. He just showed us how much more there is to life than what happens on the ice. As compassionate and competitive as he was and as bad as he wanted to win, character was always Number One. That’s something we’ll carry for the rest of our lives.”
Fort St. John Huskies’ General Manager Jeremy Clothier said that Haugan’s loss has touched many in the Peace Region.
“There’s a lot of shock and disbelief that it actually happened. I was a pretty close friends with Darcy through coaching and through his wife who I went to high school with, to [Huskies’ assistant coach Todd Alexander] playing in the SJHL,” said Clothier. “I know that his passion for the game was way deeper than just his record. His views were to grow everyone around him into a better person on the ice and in life.
When I started my ventures in hockey I could not think of another organization that I wanted to mimic but the North Peace Navigators and the way that Darcy ran his team. Demanding respect for both players and the game, he was an outstanding coach and mentor to many including me,” he said in a post on his Facebook page.
Shipton also spoke about three former teammates he played with that season who were also involved in the crash: 18-year-old Xavier Labelle, 20-year-old Logan Schatz, and 21-year-old Logan Boulet. Schatz, who served as the Broncos’ captain for the past two seasons, and Boulet, whose organs were donated after he was taken off life support Saturday afternoon, both died. Labelle, who was previously misidentified by the Saskatchewan Coroner’s office as having died in the crash, was confirmed to have survived the collision.
“Logan Schatz was an awesome person and down to Earth guy. Such a talented athlete who could always make you smile. Logan Boulet was one of the greatest guys I’ve ever had the chance to play with, so down to earth and always looking out for others before himself. I didn’t know Xavier very well but you could just tell he was a great person by the way he carried himself. All three were great hockey players, but even better people.”