‘The world has lost a lot of great guys’

by Stacey Colwell

If not for a simple twist of fate, McKullen Astill could have been in the Humboldt Broncos' catastrophic bus crash.

"That crosses my mind all the time," said the South Shore Lumberjacks forward who was acquired from Humboldt in January.

"When I heard this had happened, I just remembered sitting on the bus with all the guys. It was always a good time and we were always having fun making each other laugh. I can just imagine that's what they were doing as this tragedy happened."

In fact, he'd literally been down the same road the players travelled on the fateful April 6 night when 15 of them died in a horrific bus crash on their way to a game in Nipawin, Saskatchewan.

"I actually played a game against Nipawin. I don't remember much of the road trip - we were usually playing cards, or playing games on our phones and making jokes or talking to each other - so you're not really paying attention to what's going on around outside the bus."

The 19-year-old spent part of 2017-18 with the Broncos, playing eight games before being traded in January. There's still a photo on the team's Facebook page from a holiday party with him smiling alongside his teammates in ugly Christmas sweaters.

"I only briefly knew these guys, but they welcomed me with open arms ... I really enjoyed my time there. The world has lost a lot of great guys."

Astill heard the news after Friday night's Lumberjacks game when a friend texted him.

"I thought 'this can't be true' and everything like that. Then I checked the news and saw what happened. I was in utter shock. I stayed up all night checking the news and texting my buddies to see what had happened exactly, because obviously I had played with these guys so it really hit me hard."

He's felt sick ever since.

"I can't believe it's happened, to be honest. I just feel so bad for all the families and my friends. It's such a tragedy."

Meanwhile, immediately after the crash, Astill started receiving texts and calls from friends back in Norway, where he played growing up.

"They didn't know I'd been traded to the Lumberjacks and were wondering if I was still alive. It's really affected all my friends and I'm still here, so I can only imagine how it's affecting all the parents and families of the people who were on the bus."

Astill said it was good to hear the Town of Bridgewater was planning to set up public condolence books to be sent to Humbolt.

"It shows how even though it happened in Humboldt, the hockey community is so small that it really does affect everyone ... I think it's good that everyone is taking part in this because it could happen to any team at any time. That's the scary part."

He said it's something the Lumberjacks' players talked about on Saturday.

"You take everything for granted. This is a reality check. One second you could be getting ready to go to a game and the next you could be gone."

Fifteen people died and 14 were injured after the Broncos' team bus collided with a transport truck on a Saskatchewan highway early Friday night.

As of Sunday afternoon, a GoFundMe page had raised nearly $4 million for affected players and families.

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