Viper winger Jimmy Lambert went to bed Sunday night in Vernon thinking he had lost Saskatoon neighbour and buddy Xavier Labelle in the horrific Humboldt Broncos bus crash two nights before near Tisdale, Sask.
The 21-year-old learned Monday that a case of mistaken identity revealed that Labelle was not one of the 15 players killed, but rather a survivor. A coroner’s error mixed up goalie Parker Tobin and Labelle of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team.
Lambert went to the Vernon Golf & Country Club driving range that afternoon with his billet, Oliver Murray, with the Broncos deep in his thoughts.
“My mom called at eight this morning telling me that Xavier was alive,” said Lambert. “I was, like, ‘What?’ It just shows you how terrible and devastating the accident was that there could be a mistaken identity. That makes it tough.”
Lambert, recruited out of the Saskatoon Major Midget Contacts program, just finished his third season with the B.C. Hockey League Snakes. He rang up 57 goals and was a go-to-guy and alternate captain, leading the Vipers in points this season.
“I played with Xavier with the Contacts. He was one of the more quiet guys on the team. His older brother, Isaac, was our goalie.”
Lambert used to go trick or treating with Bronco right winger Kaleb Dahlgren, one of several players in Saskatoon hospital. Dahlgren lived a 10-minute drive from Lambert.
“My buddies told me he’s recovering and is OK,” said Lambert. “I grew up playing 3-on-3 and summer hockey with him. I’m going to give him his space and text him in a day or so. I also know (centre) Brayden Camrud. He grew up in my neighborhood as well. And I know (d-man) Bryce Fiske. In Saskatoon, everybody knows everybody in the hockey world.”
Lambert was also touched by two other Broncos who lost their lives. “I knew (captain) Logan Schatz. He was a such a great guy. I played for years against him and remember him best from my Contacts days. He was quite the player. He played ball hockey for Team Saskatchewan and Team Canada. He was from Allan (near Saskatoon) but was always in the city hanging out. Everybody knew about him.
“I also knew (right winger) Evan Thomas. His dad was my chiropractor. This tragedy has really changed my perspective on life. I have to start keeping in better contact with people in my life because you never know.”
Before signing with the Vipers at 17, Lambert attended a couple of Melfort Mustangs SJHL camps.
Centre Jaxon Joseph, son of former NHLer Chris Joseph, skated with Melfort and one year with the BCHL Surrey Eagles before joining Humboldt. He died in the accident.
“I never got to meet him, but I know guys who played for Melfort and they all said he was a great guy.”
Lambert will head home to Saskatoon Thursday “and support the families the best I can.”
He is excited to be reunited with his own family and celebrate his sister Codie’s birthday Saturday. She just finished dentistry school.
The speedster will skate for the University of Michigan Wolverines next fall on a scholarship. He will study kinesiology.
The hellish bus-semi truck collision has brought the country together through Humboldt Strong T-shirt sales, hockey stick front-porch memorials and a GoFundMe account which has skyrocketed to more than $6 million. Humboldt is a small farming community of about 6,000 people 110 kilometres east of Saskatoon.
Vernon hockey mom Rhonda Becker shared a Facebook post she saw in her news feed, encouraging people to wear jerseys this Thursday in support of the Broncos.
“When I saw that post about Jersey Day (via Langley Minor Hockey association), it was encouraging kids to wear jerseys to school – but I thought, ‘this doesn’t have to be just for schools – anyone can wear a jersey.’ It’s about rallying around other people and showing our support.”
Becker, who manages and co-owns Legacy Photography & Framing downtown, felt a huge sadness for the Broncos organization because of her involvement in amateur sport.
“Being a mom with kids, not just in hockey, but in sports and on teams that travel, this just really hit home. We carted kids around to different games and events for 17 years and you look back and think about all the what-ifs. I remember taking a bus to a volleyball tournament in Saskatchewan 14 years ago…you just…you never know.”
The bus mishap was the talk of the town at the Village Green Hotel Rec Hockey Tournament over the weekend.
“After the tragic events of this past weekend in Humboldt, it has made everyone in the hockey community come together and be thankful for our teammates and our opponents,” said Vernon Vixens defenceman Christine Bosworth. “The Vixens hearts are with Humboldt.”
Vernon Midget Tier 1 Viper head coach Jared Barendregt knew highly respected Bronco head coach/GM Darcy Haugan, a Peace River product who was among those killed. Barendregt played for Haugan and the Peace River Navigators of the Northwest League.
“To get the opportunity to play for him in Peace River was something I’ll cherish forever,” Barendregt wrote on Facebook. “His dedication to the sport, to us as players, always doing everything and anything he could to make us feel at home, he had a way to get everything out of you. I’ve never met someone with more passion and more desire to find ways to be a better coach and break teams down.”
Sun Valley Source For Sports in Vernon jumped on board the Bronco support wagon Tuesday by reproducing team stickers.
“We have donated the material and time,” said Sun Valley co-owner Mike Melbourne. “They are no charge with the understanding people contribute to the GoFundMe page. We’re working with businessman Al Novakowski of Salmon Arm, who played for the Broncos. People can bring in jerseys and we will put the stickers on. We also have small bumper stickers.”
-With Files from Erin Christie