Swift Current, SK Hockey Team Bus Crash, Dec 1986

Memorial to Hockey Players.jpg


Swift Current, Sask. (CP) -- Don Mantyka and his wife Barbara wept as they drove from a hockey rink with their son's Swift Current Broncos sweater, No. 22.
CHRIS MANTYKA, 19, along with TRENT KRESSE, 20, SCOTT KRUGER, 19 and BRENT RUFF, 16, were killed last Tuesday when the junior hockey club's team bus slid off a road and crashed.
The vehicle skidded off a wind-swept, slippery section of the Trans-Canada Highway a few kilometres east of here. Another 19 members of the team were injured.
Two players -- KURT LACKLEN, 19, and BOB WILKIE, 18 -- remained in hospital Wednesday. LACKLEN has broken ribs while WILKIE is recovering from hip injuries.
The shaken survivors gathered and decided to play out their season, despite its losses. The schedule was tentatively set to resume Jan. 9.
The Mantykas drove to Swift Current from their Saskatoon home. Don met with Broncos' president John Rittinger, at whose home the young Mantyka stayed, and left with the sweater.
RUFF was from Warburg, Alta., KRESSE was from Kindersley, Sask., and KRUGER was from Swift Current.
"If he was going to die, this would have been the way he wanted it to be," Mantyka said of his son. "He just loved hockey so much."
Team officials organized a memorial service for Sunday at 1 p.m. at the local civic centre.
ED BROST, 19, a Broncos' defenceman, was sitting at the front of the bus when the accident occurred.
"Right now, it's a nightmare," he said. "No one can believe what is happening. If anybody says they have any answers, they would be lying to themselves."
The Calgary native said the fact the accident happened during the holiday season was insignigicant.
"There's never going to be a right time for something like this. On New Year's, you're supposed to bring your whistles out, but life doesn't work that way."
GORD GREEN, 19, another defenceman who played with the Broncos in Lethbridge, was sitting in the middle of the bus.
"I was reading a book and I could feel the bus sliding. We hit a couple of bumps and went up into the air. I flipped over .. with seats and guys on top of me."
Last season, the Medley, Alta. native said, his team bus was involved in a minor accident, "but you never believe something like this is going to happen."
"We had a meeting and the guys are going to play. Life goes on and other people are going to forget about this a lot quicker than we will."
Coach Graham James said the deaths of the four players are a shocking blow to everyone. The four were playing cards at the back of the bus when ti crashed and rolled onto its side.
"Two guys (KRESSE and KRUGER) were in the top 10 in league scoring," said James. "Another (MANTYKA) was our muscle player and one of the most popular."
"RUFF was one of the best 16-year-olds in the country ... a great kid from a quality family."
KRESSE and KRUGER each had scored 56 points this season, RUFF, the youngest player on the team, had three goals and three assists. His brother, Lindy, plays with the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League.
The deaths stunned the 14-team league, Ed Chynoweth, the league president, was wracked with anguish by the crash.
"There has never been anything more devastating that has happened to me personally," he said. "The question I keep asking myself is, 'Why?"
Doug Sauter, general manager of the Regina Pats of the WHL, said bus travel, often over long stretches of snowy Prairie highway, is part of junior hockey.
"The bus and travel are a way of life for us in this league," he said.
Sauter said it could have happened to any team.
"It's a nightmare I've thought about over the years."
Coach James of the Broncos also reflected on bus travel.
"When you are in a bus, you almost have the feeling of invincibility," he said.
"Obviously it is a false impression. Anybody who has been in this league long enough has been in a bus that rolled."
"You just don't think that people are going to die."
The accident happened shortly after the bus left Swift Current on its way to Regina and a game against the Pats.
The made-over school bus, painted in the green and white colors of the Broncos' team colors, headed out of town into the deepening twilight in treacherous road conditions.
Wind gusts were whipping fresh snow across the flats and over the highway.
The bus apparently missed a curve on icy pavement and skidded off the road. It rumbled down an embankment and on to an approach road.
Coroner d'Arcy Morrice has called an inquest into the accident.
Passengers were hurled around the bus. The front windshield popped out. A little of sleeping bags, books and personal items was strewn around the scene.
Two of the dead were apparently pinned beneath the overturned vehicle, while the other two were thrown from the bus.

Lethbridge Herald Alberta 1987-01-03