Just weeks removed from a tragic bus crash that took the lives of 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, Canadian golfers Mackenzie Hughes and Corey Conners are doing their part to honor the small community in Saskatchewan.
Hughes and Conners - teammates at Kent State University in Ohio and members of Golf Canada’s national team - will be paired together this week at the Zurich Classic on the PGA Tour.
This year, the two-person teams will be allowed to choose a song as they arrive at the first tee with their own walk-up music, not unlike a baseball player coming to the plate.
The Canadian duo has chosen “Big League” by Tom Cochrane - a song that has become an anthem for Humboldt, the town of 5,800 people about five hours from the U.S. border.
“It just seemed like a fitting way to honor them and pay tribute,” said Hughes. “It’s something small, but we thought it would be kind of cool and we have a unique platform to do it. Corey and myself hadn’t really heard the song until it came to be what it is, but we both thought it would be a great idea.”
The song, released in 1988, is about a young hockey player with big dreams who is killed in a car accident.
“Not many ways out of this cold northern town; you work in the mill and get laid in the ground,” Cochrane writes. “If you’re gonna jump, it’ll be with the game; real fast and tough is the only clear lane to the big league.”
Many Canadians have drawn parallels between the song and the April 6 tragedy in Saskatchewan that killed 16 people and injured another 13, some critically.
Cochrane told the Vancouver Sun the song’s subject is fictional, but he has had people from all around the world tell him they’ve connected it to baseball or soccer players, along with hockey.
A line in which listeners find out the hockey player gets killed was re-written by Cochrane last week to focus on immortality for a special acoustic version of the song dedicated to the victims of the Humboldt tragedy.
The Canadian Press reported plays of the original version of the song jumped 658 percent for the week ending April 12.
Conners’ hometown of Listowel, Ontario has a comparable population to Humboldt and went through its own tragedy in the late 1950s, when its arena collapsed under the weight of snow and ice, killing seven people. He said the similarities between the two towns give him an even more special connection.
“In Listowel, there is definitely that hockey connection. We have a hockey team and everyone is really passionate about it. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening, but there are a lot of similarities. If something like that happened in Listowel, the community would react similarly, and there would be a lot of support from everyone for the hockey team,” he said.
Hughes agreed. He said although he is from a bigger town, he would know all the kids who were playing hockey around the same age.
“Hockey was still a big part of our town,” said Hughes. “It’s something that, as a proud Canadian living in the best country in the world, it’s one of those things that really hits home and you want to have a part in this and pay respect in any way (we) could.”
Canadian golfers have supported Humboldt in spades since the accident.
LPGA Tour golfers at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii all sported yellow and green ribbons, while Brooke Henderson, who won the event, dedicated her victory to the community.
"Hockey is so important to almost every Canadian,” she told the Canadian Press after her win. "I think (what happened in Saskatchewan) gave me that little extra motivation and extra mental strength to keep pushing and try to get that win not only for me but for them as well."
Nick Taylor, a PGA Tour winner, donated $500 for every birdie he made at the RBC Heritage two weeks ago; he wound up with seven, for a donation of $3,500.
The GoFundMe campaign started to raise money for the victim’s family concluded last week with more than $15.1 million raised by 142,000 contributors, the most ever by a Canadian initiative on the crowdfunding platform.
Adam Stanley has written about golf since 2011 for PGATOUR.com, LPGA.com, and the Canadian Press, among other organizations. He's also a frequent contributor to The Globe and Mail. Find him on Twitter @adam_stanley.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)