A HEARTBREAKING STORY

Fred Faour: Humboldt hockey team tragedy hits close to home for all of us

Members of the Winnipeg Jets and Chicago Blackhawks honored the Humboldt Broncos by wearing the team name on their jerseys Saturday night. Jason Halstead /Getty Images

One of the worst stories of the year happened over the weekend, when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos, a junior hockey team in Saskatchewan, Canada, collided with a transport truck. It is a horrible, gut-wrenching story, one that should resonate with every parent. In the accident, 15 people were killed, and the remaining 14 on the bus suffered injuries of varying severity. It was, in short, a nightmare.

It also hit home for a lot of reasons. The hockey culture in Western Canada is much like football in Texas. Small towns take pride in their teams, and the community comes together for games. But it goes even deeper than that. The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League is open to players born in North America at 20 years of age or under. They come from all over the province, and many families act as "billets," allowing the players to stay with them during hockey season. 

Rene Cannon is part of one such billeting family. She told the CBC: "We aren't built to not get attached. We take every single boy that's ever come into our house right into our hearts and into our family. They're children of our heart from the moment they walk in our door."

Two of the three young men she was hosting were killed in the crash. Making it worse, one of them was originally misidentified -- at one point she thought she had lost all three. It is impossible to read the stories like that and not feel devastated, especially when you consider how many of our own children take long bus trips and we don't think twice about it. Football teams every Friday night in the fall. Bands. Drill teams. Baseball. Softball. Soccer. Debate teams. And that's just high school.

That is one of the things that makes the story so heartbreaking. We grieve, because any parent understands. Any family understands. We grieve for the players and coaches of the Humboldt Broncos because we will never know what some of those young men could have become. One wanted to be a doctor. Another a broadcaster. All taken away in a matter of seconds in a horrible accident. Young men who could have made a difference in the world. A group of boys who were on their way to a playoff game, in what should have been a highlight of their young careers. A coach. A volunteer statistician. A radio play-by-play guy. All probably thinking about the game, and all the things that young men talk about. In an instant, so many lives were changed forever.

And the impact goes beyond the familes and the community. One of the ER doctors shared his story and called it the "most tragic night of my career." This was a man who worked in a war zone in Syria.

We also grieve for the adults lost, who devoted so much time to the team and the community. And while the cause of the crash remains unknown, the driver of the truck will have to live with this the rest of his life, even if it was not his fault. We grieve for the first responders and medical teams that saw the devasatation firsthand. No one can really train for that.

We grieve for the surviving players, because it is hard to imagine how they cope with something like this.

I've never been to Humboldt, but having spent a decent amount of time in small-town Saskatchewan, I imagine it to be like the other small towns, where there is a true sense of community. Everyone knows everyone else. Hockey is a common bond for everybody. Family often extends to neighbors as much as blood relatives. These are good, hardworking, quality people. It is not unlike growing up in small towns in Texas. The loss of one person resonates throughout a community. It's hard to even fathom something of this magnitude. 

As a writer, the greatest frustration is not having the right words. It's almost impossible to imagine what anyone can say to the people affected by this terrible tragedy. So to everyone involved, all I can say is we grieve for you. 

We grieve for all of you.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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