by Darren Zary
Splashes of green, yellow, white and black can be seen everywhere you go in Humboldt, Sask.
Signs are prevalent on the windows of businesses throughout the city and inside shops. You don’t have walk too far before you realize this is indeed Broncos’ territory. Not that the Broncos need any introduction, mind you.
When you think of Humboldt, you automatically think of the Humboldt Broncos. The two partners, through hockey marriage, go hand-in-hand. They’re synonymous. Inseparable. The Broncos are, and always have been, the talk of the town. Those who have been long-associated with the Junior A hockey squad can’t envision a Humboldt without those Buckin’ Broncos.
“Can’t imagine it,” says long-time resident Don Brockman, 79. “It wouldn’t be what it is today, as simple as that.”
They’re that big?
“You betcha,” adds Brockman, a former team president and board member who has been a supporter since Day 1 – dating back to 1970.
“All the people that are here, they talk hockey, I’d say, 60 per cent of the time.”
Right up there with the weather, politics, gossip and the Saskatchewan Roughriders are the Broncos. They’ve been the back-bone of this community since their humble beginnings in the old Leo Parker Arena. Few hockey fans across the country are as passionate as fans from small cities and towns in Saskatchewan.
“Without the Broncos in the community, it wouldn’t be the same Humboldt – it would be very different,” says Tom Johnson, a Broncos’ fan for over two decades.
“Without them, it’d be a long winter.”
Johnson, who works in the local post office, lives and breathes hockey over the sales counter on a daily basis.
“We talk hockey all the time – with lots of the customers,” says Johnson, a volunteer at this year’s RBC Cup. “We’ve got regulars who come in all the time.”
The hockey team is the heartbeat of the community. The result of last night’s game is often the main topic of discussion at the local coffee shop the next morning. Humboldt is no different.
Broncos assistant coach Tim Klimosko, who has spent his entire life in Humboldt, works the front line on the centre of controversy, coffee row. Klimosko has been a Broncos’ fan, parent and coach. His son, Brayden, once played for the team.
“On coffee row, I get to meet all those other ‘coaches’ out there,” Klimosko admits with a chuckle. “I’m one of the coaches, but there are about 100 others who coach me and tell me what I do wrong and what I do right. Not too often do I hear what I do right.”
Klimosko, too, can’t imagine life in Humboldt without the Broncos.
“From the early ’70s on, I’ve been following the team,” he recalls. “I lived right across from (Leo Parker Arena). I’ve lived more or less with the Broncos ever since they started. It’s been part of my life and part of this whole city, really.”
Fans gather on coffee row, whether it’s at the A&W, Tim Hortons, McDonalds, Pioneer, Bella Vista, Rick’s Place or elsewhere.
“I go to Thrifty (Market) in the mornings and it’s hockey-central down there,” chimes in Johnston. “We’re always talking Broncos.”
Humboldt’s social fabric is woven tightly around the plight of the Broncos. Citizens are totally wrapped up with how the Broncos are doing in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. The Elgar Petersen Arena, which is part of the larger Humboldt Uniplex multi-purpose facility, is the social hub of the city.
That identity, like a stretch pass, is carried outside the Humboldt district.
“When you travel across Canada, and you tell somebody where you’re from, that you’re from Humboldt, chances are they’re going to say, ‘oh, the Humboldt Broncos,’ ” admits Humboldt Mayor Malcolm Eaton.
“They’ve really put Humboldt on the map across the country because they’ve been successful over the years and we’ve had players come from right across the country to play for the Broncos.
“They’re a real asset to the community.”
Eaton has also been a Bronco parent and long-time billet. His son, Joey, played three seasons for the Bronco and was a member of the 2003 team that won the Royal Bank Cup in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
“On a personal level, the Broncos have been a very important part of our family,” admits Eaton. “As mayor, it just makes sense to me that we continue to try and support and work with the Broncos to make it another top junior program in the country.”
Every fan, young and old, has their opinion. Fans follow the team from town to town, city to city, battling the frigid Saskatchewan winter for a chance to cheer on their boys. During the playoffs, the ubiquitous fan bus lug loads of fans into the opposition’s barn, where the visiting team always seems to have a boisterous presence. Cow bells, air horns, garbage can lids unite.
Al Gaetz, who’ll turn 76 in May, has done his share of road trips. He has also seen his share of rinks. He’s a past team president, general manager and member of the board of directors. He’s yet another long-time supporter.
“The Broncos mean a lot to me,” says Gaetz. “They’ve been a part of our life. We’ve been associated with the Broncos since the day they started. Ever since then, we’ve been loyal supporters.
“I remember driving in from Spalding in the early 1950s when the Humboldt (Jr.) Indians were here. We’d come into Spalding on horses and then take a car to the hockey game.
“I’ve been hooked on it ever since.”
The Broncos keep busy in the community. They’re involved in a CanSkate program, in conjunction with the figure skating club, which teaches little tykes how to skate. They play hockey with a special needs group Monday nights. They pay hospital visits.
“This year, more than ever, we got out,” notes Broncos head coach and general manager Dean Brockman. “We did a supper with the senior citizens in town. We also went to the schools. Certainly, there are lots of activities we’ve participated in. Being active in the community, volunteering and knowing how the town ticks and who’s important, is important to us.”
The Broncos live in a fishbowl, under a microscope 24/7. Most of the time, that’s OK with Brockman.
“Really, it’s a neat feeling that people can adhere to your team and your players and know stats, or give you advice, and all that fun stuff,” says Brockman. “It is kind of special when little kids want to give you high-five and kind of look up to these guys to be their heroes. Really, in your life-time, how many times do you get to be a hero? Not many. These guys are heroes to little kids.”
Like Klimosko, Murray Brookbank has been both a Bronco parent and coach. Brookbank’s son, Sheldon, played for the Broncos. He now plays for the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks.
“It’s just a great thing to be part of the tradition,” says Brookbank. “Dean, Tim and I have been together for seven years. We’re quite proud of the accomplishments that have happened.”
Ditto to those long-time fans who go can trace the team back to its 1970 roots.
“The Broncos mean so much to the retired people who come to the community,” points out Don Brockman. “That’s why a lot of them did settle here, for that simple reason.”
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