- Click here for my news article on the book from Swift Current Online
- Click here to order the book from Amazon
Interview with Co-Author Gregg Drinnan (Download)
I confess that I feel a great deal of distance from most of the hockey history in this community. I can’t help but feel that way because so many of you lived it and I’ve only made Swift Current my home for the last two years and change. It’s a history filled with dramatic shares of both triumph and tragedy. The Broncos franchise has seen some of the greats of all time like Trottier, Tiger and Sakic. It brought championship teams to Swift Current in 1989 and 1993. It has also seen some of the darkest and most challenging times any junior franchise could ever imagine. Through all of that the Broncos continue on year after year in a market not even close to the size of your typical WHL team.
How can a newcomer possibly understand all of that? It’s a lot to take in.
That’s why the book Sudden Death: The Incredible Saga of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos was a very valuable tool for me. I’ll never know what it was like for those players or the members of the community who went through the devastation of the 1986 bus crash, but now I can at least understand some of it. The book allows players, witnesses and community members to offer their unique perspective on the days surrounding the crash and what happened in the weeks, months and years after.
Did you know about the goalie who was in the crash but never played a game for the Broncos? How about a team leader who had to somehow muster the courage to speak in front of several thousand people gathered to mourn his teammate? There’s the story of the RCMP officer who attended the scene while also wondering whether the player he billeted was OK… or the young woman who was hitching a ride in a truck back to Moose Jaw before she saw the crash happen before her eyes and never even knew the name of the dying man whose hand she held in the snow.
It’s not an easy read because it’s such a devastating story, but it’s an easy read in the sense that I got through it in one sitting. You don’t have to be a hockey fan to take something from this book.
As I was saying in the interview with Gregg Drinnan I found the narrative structure quite interesting. It was like one of those TV shows or movies where you start at one point and see the same events happen through different eyes multiple times. I also found it fitting how the story started with three members of the 89 team getting together before heading to what would end up being a great reunion weekend for their Memorial Cup Championship. The book describes how they didn’t know what to expect as they started their trip… but in the end it was a weight lifted off all of their shoulders and a chance to just be buddies again.
The section on Graham James feels almost like a necessary appendix. You can’t talk about what happened without discussing his horrific actions. That’s especially true when you read through the book and can really sense how those young men who endured the crash could have benefitted from the grief counselling James never offered them… or when you read Bob Wilkie’s story of seeing his coach at the hospital only concerned about one or two players despite what had happened to his whole team.
James stole so much from those young men and specifically from those he abused. What I liked reading was that despite what he took… they were still able to gather together again years later and celebrate their achievements. They were still able to have good times with friends and teammates. James is in a cell and his name is mud forever, but those he could have ruined are thriving more and more each day. Men like Sheldon Kennedy, Theo Fleury and Todd Holt are offering so much hope and proving that they are a hundred times stronger than their abuser ever was. Hockey and sports in general is safer for kids every day because of them. They have taken what has happened to them and opened doors so that hopefully it happens less and less in the future… and those who have been abused that need help are able to find it.
In the end I can say I learned a lot and at least feel like I have some small idea what those years were like for those who experienced them. I’ll never feel what many of you have felt, but I at least get some insight into it. I also came out of the book feeling that despite the fact that so many associate the Broncos with those tragedies, it doesn’t mean the franchise shouldn’t celebrate all it has achieved and will continue to achieve. You must always remember the lessons of the past while never giving up hope for the future.
RIP Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff.