The 1971-72 Humboldt Broncos captured the SJHL championship. SUBMITTED PHOTO
LEO WURTZ SPECIAL TO THE SOURCE
I have several things in common with Humboldt Broncos president Kevin Garinger.
Besides both of us living or having lived in Humboldt, we are both educators as Garinger also currently serves as the director of education at the Humboldt Public School Division, while I taught and was the principal of the Humboldt Public School. Garinger and his wife billeted a Bronco as did I and my wife Brenda.
Both of our wives were involved behind the scenes in the day-to-day operation of the team. Garinger is the current president of the Broncos, while I was the founding president.
The story of the Broncos began when I, Gerry Rooney and Mel Dagenais were invited to meet Mike Shabaga, then manager and coach of the WCHL’s Swift Current Broncos, in Humboldt in late April or early May, 1970.
Swift Current wanted an affiliate team in the Saskatchewan junior A league and was inquiring as to whether there would be sufficient interest for a new franchise in Humboldt. The city had previously hosted a team, the Indians, in the 1950s under the operation of Scottie Munro only to lose the club by relocation to Estevan in the early 1960s.
In our opinion, Humboldt was starving for a junior A team. There was a strong nucleus of midget, juvenile and junior B players within the city and in the surrounding community including nearby St. Peter’s College, which had just won or reached the provincial finals.
The surrounding towns of Watrous, Watson, LeRoy, Melfort, Muenster, Bruno, Lake Lenore, Lanigan and St. Brieux also possessed strong hockey talent. It was no secret that Swift Current was eager to tap into this well.
Rooney, Dagenais and I met with local dignitaries to form the executive where I took on the position of president. Rooney became the team manager, while Herb Stoll picked up the job of head coach.
Through the spring and summer of 1970 all efforts were directed toward having the team ready for the 1970-71 season. Season ticket sales were brisk and the support was overwhelming.
At the beginning of that inaugural season, the Swift Current Broncos provided a nucleus of players for their Humboldt affiliate including Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams, whose talent and toughness quickly earned him an invite back to the big club before the start of the year. The remainder of the roster was filled by local hockey players.
The Swift Current club also gave the new team home and away uniforms bearing the Broncos crest. That insignia provided the Humboldt team with a name they’ve carried to this day.
The first Broncos game was played at Humboldt’s 1,500 seat Leo Parker Arena on Nov. 11, 1970, against the Melville Millionaires. I had the honour of serving as the game’s referee.
Every match during that initial season was a sell out. Although the arena was equipped with bench board seating, out-of-town visitors often commentated on the unusual Humboldt phenomena of its spectators standing throughout the contest leading to the declaration that all Broncos games were standing room only.
Stoll left the bench partway into the season, but the coaching position was aptly filled by Terry Henning. He led the club to the league final that first season where they fell to the Weyburn Red Wings.
Henning will always be remembered for his excellent coaching style and his ability to bring out the best in his players. He mentored the boys, just as coach Darcy Haugan, into becoming outstanding young men by instilling rules such as no slamming the door, no kicking the garbage can, no throwing sticks on the ice and no criticizing of the officials.
The Broncos remained an affiliate of Swift Current for a number of years following the inaugural season, but the support that Humboldt received from its fans ensured it no longer required any further assistance or support from the parent club.
I was a proud supporter of hockey in Humboldt and in Saskatchewan, but I was also a junior A referee at the time. To avoid any perceived conflict of interest, I relinquished my presidency to Jerry Fincati just prior to the start of the 1970-71 season.
I did remain active behind the scenes for the team chairing two successful Broncos Sportsman Celebrity Dinner fundraisers in 1971 and 1972. Upon leaving Humboldt in 1972, I recommended a number of players to the Broncos from my new home in Lloydminster.
I have kept in close contact with the Broncos until about 10 to 12 years ago when age, distance and time denied me the ability to travel to their games as I once did. But, I still have a soft spot in my heart for Humboldt and an even larger soft spot for the Broncos.
The horrible events of April 6 have left me with an empty space in my stomach. I grieved with every word spoken by Garinger and Humboldt mayor Rob Muench, who grew up across the street from us, as well as the others.
Remarkably, the whole province, country and world has come together to support the people affected by this tragedy. The Broncos will come back to play again and once again become worthy contenders, but nothing will ever erase the terrible image of this scar from the minds of the Humboldt community or its team.
God bless the families of the deceased, the injured and the survivors. God bless Humboldt and the Broncos. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone. Be forever strong.