The devastation of tragedy. The power of community. The spirit of the Prairies.
On Jan. 20, Damion Holstein was driving with his father and girlfriend to play a game with the Langenburg U18 Warriors when they were hit by a train in Churchbridge, Sask., a small community near the Manitoba border.
Miraculously, Damion and his girlfriend survived with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
“I honestly don't remember much during the accident, like when it happened, but before and after, it's all there,” recalls Damion, who suffered broken ribs and a lacerated spleen and had his hockey season come to an end.
“[My girlfriend], she tore a ligament in one foot, and I think a tendon in the other and she also had a concussion.”
However, Damion’s father, 41-year-old David Holstein, who was behind the wheel, was pronounced dead at the scene.
“He was pretty funny. He always put a smile on people's faces,” says Damion. “He is what got me into hockey because he loved watching [the] Los Angeles [Kings] play and that was his favourite team up until the end.”
The Warriors were still on the ice when they learned what happened and decided to hang Damion’s jersey on their bench for the remainder of the game as a show of support — something the 17-year-old is extremely grateful for.
“To see the support from my team, it was really heartwarming, and they didn't really know until the third period. The fact they still went out of their way put my jersey up that game was phenomenal,” says Damion.
David Holstein, left, with his sons Damion and Riley.
Almost immediately after the incident, the Langenburg Warriors began making plans to do something more for Damion, his younger brother Riley and their mom Kathleen Jenson.
“It’s an interesting thing when something happens in a small community. It’s just everybody wants to help and they don’t know, but they just start helping anyway and that’s kind of what happened,” says Wendy Maksymchuk, team manager of the Warriors.
To show their support, the Warriors decided they would move their last regular season home game, slated for Feb. 1, to Damion’s hometown of Churchbridge, which is about 10 minutes from Langenburg.
“We thought that would be a really nice sentiment, but just on a very small level,” says Maksymchuk.
At the same time, the community of Churchbridge was also looking for ways to show their support and decided to use the Warriors’ last home game as an opportunity to hold a fundraiser and silent auction with the proceeds going to Damion and his family.
“I got a phone call from the principal from the school in Churchbridge who said that the Churchbridge community also wanted to do something and were wondering if they could turn the hockey game into a community benefit fundraiser for Damion and his brother Riley,” recalls Maksymchuk, adding, “I was so
relieved because it felt like we have a direction because so many people wanted to help and now we had a plan. Things just exploded from there.”
By this time, a coach with the Warriors had contacted TSN’s Darren Dreger and asked if he could help in any way. Dreger, who went to high school in Langenburg and still has family in the community, reached out to the Regina Pats and Edmonton Oilers and shared the tragedy.
The Pats responded by sending a signed Connor Bedard jersey while the Oilers sent a signed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins jersey.
“A bit of the buzz that kind of started things rolling really quickly was Darren Dreger's efforts,” says Maksymchuk. “That Bedard jersey, we were just coming off the World Juniors and it just created the buzz that I think that the event needed right from the start because we knew it was coming pretty much as soon as we knew the event was going to take place.”
Three other signed jerseys —Tanner Jeannot (Nashville Predators), Kevin Kaminski (SJHL’s La Ronge Ice Wolves) and George Reed (Saskatchewan Roughriders) — were also donated along with 75 other items. Organizers decided to auction off the jerseys through Facebook ahead of the game to not only raise money but generate interest in the game, while the rest would be raffled off or used for the silent auction.
“Once we got to the people channelling their efforts, things kind of went together really quickly because there were so many people that wanted to help,” says Maksymchuk.
Autographed jerseys, including Connor Bedard (Regina Pats) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers), on display at Kaminski Arena in Churchbridge, Sask., on Feb. 1, 2023.
On Feb. 1, the Warriors' game against the Balcarres Broncs was held at Churchbridge’s Kaminski Arena in front of a capacity crowd.
“These teams had never played in front of a full house before and they were actually so nervous,” says Maksymchuk. “It was kind of cute, actually, and they very much enjoyed it, but you could tell right off the start their hands were shaking.”
“It really warmed my heart to see my friends and family come together to bring together a benefit game for us. It was really nice to see that,” says Riley.
During the third period, the online Facebook auction for the autographed jerseys concluded, bringing in over $6,500. The Bedard jersey fetched an eye-popping $4,000 while Nugent-Hopkins went for $1,600.
“Everybody’s eyes were huge and jaws were on the ground,” says Maksymchuk.
“I can’t even put words to it because I would have never expected that,” adds Jenson. “Not only to see them fill the rink and show support but basically to save me. I had no idea how I was going to function in the next while. Their dad and I had been split for 15 years but you’re still not on your own, you’re still sharing work, sharing expenses and losing all that was very difficult, not to mention the loss of their father.”
In the end, approximately $30,000 was raised from the jersey and silent auctions, the raffle and general donations, with all the proceeds going to a trust fund that had been established for Damion and Riley.
“You don’t expect a whole community to step up like that,” says Jenson. “It was a whole bunch of small communities coming together. It wasn’t just Churchbridge or Langenburg, it was the surrounding area that showed up and supported us.”
“To see the community come together for the benefit game and show their loving support was incredible,” adds Damion.