Los Angeles, Apr 7 (AFP) A Canadian junior hockey team was involved in a fatal crash that saw the athletes bus collide with a semi-trailer in rural Saskatchewan, police said.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, currently investigating the crash, said in a news release they had confirmed “fatalities” and “a number of injuries” in the devastating smash yesterday.

The Nipawin Hawks reported on Twitter that the team involved was the Humboldt Broncos, their scheduled opponents in a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff contest yesterday.

The crash is believed to have taken place on highway 35 about 28 kilometres north of Tisdale, Saskatchewan.

“This is much bigger than anyone can begin to imagine,” Broncos team president Kevin Garinger told the Canadian broadcaster CBC. “We are just in utter disbelief and shock at the loss that’s fallen upon us.” The Broncos team is comprised of 24 players, all from Canada, with the youngest aged 16 and the oldest 21.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his sadness at the tragic incident involving such young athletes.

“I cannot imagine what these parents are going through, and my heart goes out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy, in the Humboldt community and beyond,” Trudeau wrote on Twitter.

The Saskatchewan league is a feeder system for higher levels of hockey with many graduating to play at US and Canadian colleges and major junior league level, while some go on to the National Hockey League. Former NHL players like defenceman Chris Chelios, goaltender Ron Hextall, forward Rod BrindAmour and hall of fame goaltender Glenn Hall all played in the SJHL.

Yesterday’s fatal smash brought back memories of a single vehicle bus crash in December 1986, also in Saskatchewan, that killed four members of the Western Hockey League Swift Current Broncos.

A memorial was placed on the side of the highway at the site of the crash, about four kilometres east of Swift Current.

The Swift Current Broncos expressed their condolences.

“Humboldt Broncos weighing heavy in our hearts and minds tonight,” the team said on Twitter.

Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, who survived when the Swift Current bus skidded off the highway in snowy conditions, also sent a message of support.

“Sending all my thoughts and prayers to those impacted with the @HumboltBroncos bus crash,” Kennedy said. (AFP) CPS 04071112

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.