Zach Thomann, Sports Editor
As tragedy struck the community of Saskatchewan on April 7, the world mourned the death of 15 athletes and coaches from Canada’s junior hockey team after a fatal collision with a tractor trailer while on a bus ride to a game.
The news came as a shock for hockey players on Utica College’s campus, leaving many athletes reflecting on the tragedy.
Junior Shawn Lynch was bombarded by texts from friends and family asking him about the accident when he woke up Saturday morning
“I was unaware of the severity of the accident until I turned on the TV and heard the coverage,” Lynch said. “As I learned more and more, my heart began to sink and I could only feel sadness and anxiousness.”
Fellow junior and teammate Gregg Burmaster was also surprised by the incident and said this is “extremely rare to see.”
“Hearing about this was horrible, and this isn’t something that happens often,” Burmaster said. “It is truly eye opening.”
When an event of this caliber happens in the world, it reminds UC athletic director David Fontaine to make sure the school is taking every precaution to ensure the safety of its athletes.
Utica has a contract with the Bernie Bus Service, and Fontaine said that 90 percent of all travel for the Pioneers comes from a coach bus just like the junior Canadian hockey team. He thinks it’s important for professionals to drive team buses.
“This ensures that coaches don’t have the responsibility of driving after a long day,” Fontaine said. “Our drivers are trained professionals, and we put a lot of faith in their experience.”
Utica also requires coaches to fill out away-game travel forms which list all athletes and coaches who are traveling. If there are multiple buses, the forms will specify which bus each person is on. Fontaine said that this process can prepare the school for any incidents like ones Saskatchewan is dealing with.
“This allows us to know who could be potentially hurt and who is safe,” Fontaine said.
Fontaine has not had any problems with traveling and getting forms filled out in the past. He tries to make coaches aware of their obligations with away-game forms, but thinks the process has been running smoothly.
“The coaches here are all professionals,” Fontaine said. “I trust that they are doing the forms and doing them accurately.”
Utica relies on the National Weather Service as well as local weather stations to decide if it is safe to travel, Fontaine explained, but he usually refers to the Bernie Bus Service to determine if an event should be cancelled.
“We never try to push the bus service into taking us somewhere if they think it is not safe to travel,” Fontaine said. “No game is as important as someone’s health and safety.”
Fontaine said that the college seldomly cancels a trip and coordinates with other schools as well as the bus service to move game times.
“There are times where we push a game back a couple hours to wait for plows to clear out the snow,” Fontaine said. “Everybody is always on the same page. We want the athlete’s safety at the forefront of all our decisions.”
Despite being safe while traveling at Utica, Fontaine recognized the events with the junior Canadian hockey team as unfortunate and horrific.
“Any time you are dealing with young people and a loss of life, it is a tragedy,” Fontaine said. “The dome collapsing here was an inconvenience, but nobody was hurt. What happened to that team is what you call a tragedy.”
Lynch also calls the events on April 7 a tragedy and is proud to support the hockey community as well as many others around the country after any tragedies like Saskatchewan.
“I feel so sorry for those that have been impacted by this crash,” Lynch said. “However, It’s amazing to see how strong, respectful and loving the hockey community is and I’m so happy to be a part of it. Humboldt is not alone in the grieving process and I hope they all find peace soon.”
Riding a bus has become part of everyday life for many hockey players at UC, and Lynch has never thought about a possibility of being involved in an accident because his experiences on buses have been enjoyable.
“Now, I think this incident will always be in the back of my mind as I get on the bus for a road trip,” Lynch said. “You never know what could happen, but I truly hope this kind of thing never happens again.”
Lynch may always remember the loss of 15 canadian coaches and players when he travels, but he believes Utica has done a great job to keep him safe.
“I don’t think traveling safety is taken for granted at Utica,” Lynch said. “We always have a very nice bus and our drivers are always reliable. It’s hard to say whether or not each road trip is as safe as possible, but I personally have never experienced any issues while traveling on a bus.”