Logan Hunter always told Ian Mitchell that when Mitchell inevitably made
Canada’s National Junior Team, he’d travel wherever he had to go to support
his best friend.
Then April 6 happened and those plans changed … sort of.
Hunter was one of the 16 victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that
devastated the Saskatchewan community in particular, and the Canadian
hockey community as a whole.
But while Hunter isn’t one of the 17,000-plus that have jammed Rogers Arena
for Canada’s first three preliminary-round games at the 2019 IIHF World
Junior Championship, that doesn’t mean he’s not there.
“Logan always said that if I made it here he was coming, so he’ll be here
in spirit,” Mitchell says. “I have a little thing in my stall and on my
stick, so he’s still with us and he’s still with me.”
Mitchell and Hunter were pretty much inseparable from the time they met as
Grade 6 students in St. Albert, Alta. They were never minor hockey
teammates, but it was the game that helped forge a bond that transcended
borders after Mitchell departed for the University of Denver in the fall of
While the defenceman found his footing in the game early, wearing the Maple
Leaf at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, World Junior A Challenge and
IIHF U18 World Championship, Hunter always seemed to be one step away – he
had the skill, but there was something missing to take him to the next
That something, it turns out, was Mitchell.
In the summer months before Mitchell left for Denver, right after he was
selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the NHL Entry
Draft, the friends worked out together daily. Shauna Nordstrom, Hunter’s
mother, credits that program – and Mitchell – with putting Logan over the
“My son had a great shot, he could pass the puck, but he was always a
little shy about the physical part of the game,” Nordstrom says. “It always
kind of held him back a little bit, so the two of them fed off each other
and gave confidence to each other.
“Ian always had that maturity, and Logan was a little more on the youthful
side of things. It was that summer, I felt, that Logan really started to
mature. And when he went to Humboldt, and living away from home, we would
go there often and I could see this development of maturity.”
Mitchell gives much of the credit for his maturity to his hometown,
Calahoo, Alta., the entire population of which (85, according to the 2016
Census) would need only a few rows at Rogers Arena in order to support its
For those who may have blinked and missed it along Highway 37, Mitchell
gives a pretty succinct description of the hamlet.
“It’s a hockey rink, a couple baseball diamonds and a trailer park, and a
general store,” he says with a smile. “Gravel road, one stop sign, I think,
no lights. Train tracks, so you have to stop for that, too.”
It may not be much, but it’s home, and Mitchell wouldn’t have it any other
“You can’t really mess around because everyone knows who you are, and mom
is waiting at the door,” he says. “It was great in that sense – small,
tight-knit community, and everyone helps out at hockey tournaments or
different things around town. I’m still in contact with a lot of people I
grew up with, and it’s just special to grow up in that rural community and
be able to have that close-knit feeling you don’t get in a big city.”
Growing up in Calahoo has not only shaped Mitchell into the young man he
has become, it has done much the same with his identity on the ice,
something he credits wholly to his rural upbringing.
Mitchell played locally with the CR Knights Minor Hockey Association
through his second year of Peewee, playing games against the likes of
Ponoka, Maskwacis, Onoway, Edson and Jasper and building a love for the
game that came from never really leaving the ice.
“I just had the confidence to try a lot of things, rush the puck up the ice
and try and make one-on-one plays, so that helped the offensive side of my
game,” he says. “Sometimes you only had 12 guys on the team, so you’re
getting a lot of ice time. I think that was huge for my development,
getting to play lots and having fun playing.”
He made the jump to the ‘big city’ in 2011-12, joining the Peewee and
Bantam programs in Spruce Grove, and played one season of Midget in St.
Albert before suiting up for the Spruce Grove Saints of the Alberta Junior
Hockey League for two years.
From there it was off to Denver, where Mitchell earned a spot on the NCHC
All-Rookie Team and a nod as a finalist for NCHC Rookie of the Year last
season after posting 30 points in 41 games.
Now the journey has brought him to Vancouver and the pinnacle of junior
hockey, the IIHF World Junior Championship. The experience so far has been
one big pinch-me moment for Mitchell and his family.
“[Making Team Canada] was always the dream, but you never really think it’s
going to become reality until you actually make it here,” he says. “My mom
always says I’m just a little kid from Calahoo, and she’s having the
hardest time believing I’m able to fulfill my dream and make the World
Mitchell’s parents, Bill and Sara, are in Vancouver to enjoy the experience
along with a handful of other family and friends, which includes one
particularly special guest – Nordstrom arrived Saturday, in time for the
game against the Czech Republic that night.
“I consider Ian like my son. And sharing this amazing moment with him and
his family, it just felt that we were supposed to be enjoying it live, not
at home on TV,” she says. “We just needed to be together as family, and
it’s part of the healing for all of us.
“I obviously wish my son was sitting beside me, but he’s with Ian every
shift. I feel it, and I know he’s here and he’s happy that we made the
journey out here.”
Mitchell describes April 6 as “the hardest day of my life.” From the
original phone call from friend Dylan Ganske, to early-morning confirmation
that Hunter hadn’t survived the crash, to wandering the Denver campus in a
daze, it was a whirlwind of events and emotions.
He returned home to Alberta for the funeral services, speaking at Hunter’s
personal service as well as the celebration of life for Hunter, Jaxon
Joseph, Stephen Wack and Parker Tobin (a former minor hockey teammate) at
Rogers Place in Edmonton.
“It was good to go home,” he says. “It brought our group of friends closer
together, and really showed how close the hockey community is, but it’s
unfortunate that [the accident] is what caused it.”
Life, and the game, go on, and with his best friend in the forefront of his
mind, Mitchell has his sights set on World Juniors gold – for himself, for
his country, for his family, and for Logan Hunter.
“It’s tough, but you just have to move on and remember them for the great
people they were,” he says of those who were lost last spring. “I’m always
thinking of those guys.”