Film Reviews

Humboldt Strong: ‘The New Season’ Returns to the Ice with the Broncos

Doc tells the stories of survivors of the tragic crash


Humboldt: The New Season
(Canada, 45 min.)
Dir. Kevin Eastwood, Lucas Frison

Hockey is Canada’s game. It’s no wonder, then, that the nation found itself gripped by tragedy on April 6, 2018 when the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos collided with a semi-trailer truck, killing 16 members of the Saskatchewan junior hockey team. The Sweet Hereafter is just a movie, but this story is real life as parents, friends, and neighbours struggle with the loss of the young players and the coach and support staff who helped unite the town in the arena. They were just boys on the way to a game.

The survivors, including the 13 teammates who were seriously injured in the crash, had a long road to recovery. Humboldt: The New Season follows five of the Humboldt crew as they physically and mentally prepare to get back in the game, including crash survivors Derek Patter and Brayden Camrud who lace up their skates for the Broncos’ returning season. They wrestle with survivors’ guilt, but know that their departed teammates would want them to pursue their passion. “I’m just happy to be here and honour them,” admits Camrud in one of the doc’s many emotional interviews laced with grief and pride.

Directors Kevin Eastwood and Lucas Frison connect the stories of community members who, like Camrud, move forward in the face of tragedy. The swiftly edited doc includes the story of surviving Bronco Kaleb Dahlgren, who shares the experience of recovering from a stage-three brain trauma that had doctors preparing his parents to say goodbye to their son. The bittersweet angle to Dahlgren’s story is that his lengthy but miraculous recovery aged him out from playing with the Broncos despite being ready to return. Like Patter and Camrud, he carries of the spirit of the Broncos, albeit on the ice at York University.

Humboldt: The New Season finds compelling narratives in the stories of surviving Broncos Tyler Smith aka “Smitty” and Layne Matechuk, who both aspire to return to the ice after difficult recoveries. Smitty’s tale introduces the all-important community aspect of “billet families” as he tries to get back in the game and returns to the home of the family who, like many a Humboldt household, opened its doors to the boys as they came to play for the Broncos. However, he and his hosts wrestle with the loss of his “billet brother,” poignantly illustrating the family bonds and strength of brotherhood that the team creates. Matechuk, on the other hand, is one of the last player to leave the hospital and Eastwood and Frison capture the resilience of the team in his story as he undergoes extensive physical therapy, speech therapy, and exercises in order to rehabilitate himself and get back behind the stick.

Eastwood and Frison include the stories of the Broncos who weren’t so lucky as interviews with parents and spouses of the survivors provide insight into the lives lost in the tragedy. Particularly affecting is the story of Bernie and Toby Boulet, who lost their son Logan but found the good in the accident by following Logan’s wishes to be an organ donor and, in turn, inspiring a rise in registrations for donorship as Canadians from coast-to-coast followed the story.

When it comes time to the accident itself, Eastwood and Frison convey the tragedy viscerally but respectfully. They accentuate the interviews with cutaways to tastefully staged fragments of re-enactments. They don’t need to show the crash and instead let viewers experience it as the families experienced it, like Christina, the widow of the Broncos’ coach Darcy Haugan, who recalls staying on the line when she tried to reach Darcy and sat paralyzed as she listened to nothing but the emergency response teams and chaos from the scene. It’s a very effective scene.

The words “emotional rollercoaster” arise more than once throughout the interviews in Humboldt: The New Season. They’re an apt description for the unexpectedly moving testimonies. Dynamic camerawork and footage of the team on the ice connects each of the stories as the film looks to the future as the team makes its fateful return, mixing the energetic thrill of being on the ice with the pain that doesn’t heal so easily as the community grieves. The doc honours both the lost Broncos and the survivors by channeling these emotions into a rousing, crowd-pleasing return to the arena as the community rallies behind the team. The doc is a poignant tribute to the players who make their community proud.

Humboldt: The New Season premieres on CBC Docs POV on Thursday, August 15, 2019 at 9 p.m. ET (9:30 NT) on CBC and is available to stream on CBC Gem.