It happens on streets, in stores and restaurants. Someone approaches the teen wearing a Humboldt Broncos hoody and asks if he plays for the team.
Michael Bladon is new to Humboldt, Sask., but he’s quickly finding just how many people already know who he is or want to get to know him.
“You get a lot of attention. You get a lot of praise for doing what you’re doing and having to go what you’re going through,” said Bladon.
“The whole town has made themselves available to us if you need to talk, if you need to vent to anyone. There’s so many outlets you can go to and just knowing that the way the city is feeling is through this hockey team, so I think it’s remarkable what we’ve been able to accomplish and what the city has allowed us to do.”
What the city has allowed Bladon and the Broncos to do is help a community grieve and heal.
Bladon suited up for the Broncos’ first home-opener Wednesday after the April 6 crash that killed 16 and injured 13 others on the team’s bus. Their game against the Nipawin Hawks was nationally televised and featured a post-game ceremony at Elgar Petersen Arena that honoured the victims.
Bladon said the team did its best to focus on the game, but once the final buzzer sounded all the emotions were freed.
“That feeling on that ice and seeing those 3,000 people there, what they stood for and what they represented, just playing in front of them and their everlasting support. They were into the game, all game. This city lives and breathes hockey.”
The 18-year-old Calgary native had an offer last season to play for Humboldt but wanted to try playing hockey in B.C., where he did last season on the blue-line with the KIJHL’s Nelson Leafs.
The Broncos kept in touch with Bladon throughout the season. After the crash he attended the team’s spring camp, and even though he’d had offers from other teams Bladon already knew where he was going.
“One day I just decided if I let this opportunity pass I would regret it for the rest of my life.”
Last month he travelled to the Saskatchewan city of nearly 6,000 people for training camp, and about two weeks ago moved in with a billet family who had previously housed and lost a player who died in the bus crash.
But just by putting on the jersey and stepping onto the ice, Bladon is giving back to a city he felt compelled to help.
“I honestly think I was put on this team for a reason. Our coach [Nathan Oystrick] said it best. He said all the guys are on this team because they can handle it. It’s been a lot since we came here and last night was just the climax of that.
“Everything just kind of came rushing in at once and it hits you and you realize what is actually going on.”
Which, as he already knows, is about a lot more than hockey.