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#HumboldtStrong: Tri-Cities gather to mourn Humboldt Broncos deaths, support community

Full house at Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex Thursday evening for vigil for the victims on the Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

#9, Detroit Red Wings, HOWE.

#17, Vancouver Canucks, KESLER.

#13, New York Islanders, BARZAL.

They came in jerseys, by the dozens, by the hundreds.

They came to mourn, they came to remember, they came to be together as families and hockey clubs and lacrosse teams and a community because, two provinces away, a community, a hockey club and families were ripped apart last Friday.

At a vigil Thursday evening that was only announced Monday — just three days after a bus crash in Saskatchewan involving the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team that has now taken 16 lives — several thousand people filled the main arena at Coquitlam's Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex. There were pockets of empty seats but more than enough people to fill them because so many chose to stand, ringing the concourse in the colours of their teams.

They wore ball caps, green and gold ribbons — #HumboldtStrong — and solemn expressions.

And, as part of a national campaign of remembrance, they wore jerseys.

There were professional and amateur teams represented. Some wore shirts adorned with famous names, others with their own.

#18, Coquitlam Adanacs, DAILLY stood in the concourse next to #4, Boston Bruins, ORR.

#19, Montreal Canadians, ST. LAURENT held a small boy in a blue jersey with neither number nor name sleeping against his shoulder.

Many more Adanacs filled the stands and even a few Burrards, and tens, if not hundreds of Chiefs as well an entire section dressed in blue Coquitlam Metro Ford kit.

There were a handful of SEDIN jerseys — both #33 and #22 — and one of the latter arrived with #66, New Westminster Salmonbellies, McEWAN.

The Tri-City mayors wore jerseys. The MC, Al Murdoch, a Port Moody resident who's the Canucks' public address announcer, represented his team. The Coastal Sound choir wore a variety of team colours as they sang.

And bagpipers David and Shaunna Hilder of the Triumph Street Pipe Band wore Coquitlam Express and Coquitlam Chiefs tops hanging down to their McLean of Duart tartan kilts. They played to begin the event and piped out the assorted young athletes and speakers at the end, and in between performed "Amazing Grace." For David Hilder, an advanced life support paramedic with 33 years experience, Thursday's vigil was more than just another performance.

For Scott Walford, it was more than just another visit home. A Coquitlam native, the 19-year-old defenceman plays for the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League. Wearing his team's jersey and standing at a lectern in an arena where he grew up playing hockey and lacrosse — an arena where candles and bouquets of flowers lined the centre faceoff circle — he talked about riding the bus as a junior hockey player.

"The bus has its own economy, its own politics and its own social structures," he told the hushed crowd. "Most of all, the bus is a place where stories unfold and a team becomes a family."

But the Montreal Canadians draft pick noted the worries of loved ones, especially now, who send their sons off to chase their sporting dreams, saying, "It is the players who physically get on the bus but it is the parents, grandparents, siblings and billet families who bear the weight of every bus trip in their hearts and minds."

"In Canada, this is our sport and these are our children," said Gary Lawrence, one of the owners of the Coquitlam Express Junior A hockey club.

After the close of ceremonies, one parent stood in the concourse in a green Humboldt Broncos T-shirt, hugged a friend and wiped tears from her eyes. Debbie Harper, the administrator with Coquitlam Minor Hockey who has a son who played Junior A, said, "The connections are deep."

Another mom, Tazeem Nanji, sporting a Port Moody Minor Hockey jersey, said with two hockey-playing sons, "It just hit so close to home."

She said she didn't hear about the Humboldt accident until Saturday morning, when her son was supposed to get on a bus to go to skiing in Whistler. "I asked him not to go."

He didn't, she said, as the crowd filed out of the arena.

#12, New England Patriots, BRADY.

#77, Las Vegas Golden Knights, HUNT.

#4, Coquitlam Adanacs, MITCHELL.