Last year, Zach Morey had a choice. He could play for the Humboldt Broncos or return to the Nelson Leafs.
He’s been thinking a lot lately about the decision he made.
Like many in Canada, the Leafs defenceman has been reeling following the April 6 crash between a semi truck and the Broncos’ team bus that killed 16 people and injured 13 more.
What separates Morey from everyone else, though, is that he could have been on that bus himself.
“It’s eerie. Thinking how both things would have gone different ways, if a couple choices wouldn’t have been so black and white or something happened, that could have been me. It’s kind of a weird, foreboding…,” and here Morey paused to find the words.
“It’s a lot.”
Morey played five exhibition games for the Broncos at the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign. The defenceman had been promised a roster spot, but a coaching change led to his being cut. He ended up playing for the Kimberley Dynamiters before a trade sent him to the Leafs later that season.
At the start of last year, the Broncos coaching staff returned to offer Morey a spot for his final year in junior hockey. He turned them down.
“I was just kind of done with Saskatchewan and I really liked Nelson. The opportunity in Nelson was better than the opportunity to go back and play in the SJHL.”
The Leafs made Morey an assistant captain, and he had a stellar season. There was no reason for him to think about the Broncos again, until last week’s tragedy.
“It took a while to kick in because it just seems too terrible to be true, if that makes any sense,” he said. “Thinking about yourself being in the crash too. It’s one of those things where I wouldn’t wish that upon my worst enemy, and to think that you could have been there just throws you off and makes you think about how lucky you are for making the choices you did.”
For their part, the Leafs have since donated $1,000 to the Broncos. As of publication, $8.5 million has been raised through a GoFundMe campaign for the players and families affected by the crash.
Part of what hit Morey hardest about the crash is how often he and other hockey players his age are on buses. He refers to the bus as a safe space.
“Everybody has their seat, that’s where they sit, everybody jokes around and talks and plays some pranks, has some fun,” said Morey. “It really is just for the boys and it becomes our space, even if it is just for the two hours or the trip to Castlegar or if we’re going five or six hours. That’s ours for as long as it is and we make it our own.”
Morey is too old to play junior hockey now. After the crash, he briefly thought how lucky he was to never have to ride a bus again.
But then he changed his mind.
“A lot of the friendships and a lot of the good times of my junior career all began on the bus,” he said.