The 30th anniversary of the Swift Current Broncos tragic bus crash that claimed the lives of four Broncos will never be forgotten; especially now after a granite stone featuring the Four Broncos Memorial was unveiled on Friday near the site of the crash.
24 family members of the four players that passed away were in attendance during the unveiling of the four-leaf clover shaped monument that sits approximately 5 kilometres east of Swift Current.
The family members also attended the Swift Current Broncos game later that night at the Credit Union iPlex against the visiting Saskatoon Blades. Before the game, the Broncos organization honoured the family members by bringing them onto the ice to watch a video tribute that featured highlights of the Swift Current Broncos 1986-97 team before the bus crash. The video also featured news agencies reporting on the tragic crash, followed by interviews with Broncos players. The video ended with the symbol that is on every Swift Current Broncos jersey and on all the Swift Current minor hockey jerseys as well; the four-leaf clover with the numbers 8, 9, 11 and 22. Those numbers represented the four Broncos Trent Kresse (#8), Scott Kruger (#9), Brent Ruff (#11) and Chris Mantyka (#22) that suddenly passed away in the afternoon hours of December 30, 1986.
"We will never retire (another) number for fear that it will diminish those four (players). This is all the jersey (numbers) that will ever be retired (by the Broncos) and that's the symbol of that decision," Swift Current Broncos Governor Al Stewart told the media Friday afternoon.
Saskatoon product Chris Mantyka was a 19-year-old forward with the Broncos and was described as a fan favourite who played a hardnosed game compiling 101 penalty minutes in 31 games and adding three goals and two assists before his life was taken in the crash.
Chris's father, Don Mantyka was in attendance for the events Friday and spoke about his son's personality on and off the ice.
"Chris was a rambunctious kind of hockey player. There was another side of him that was very soft and a lot of people here that knew him well knew that soft side of him. He wasn't that big tough rock'em sock'em guy that you saw on the ice, he was a very soft off the ice," Mantyka told Swift Current Online.
The 1986-87 season was the first season in the WHL for Chris after he spent the previous year playing for the Nipawin Hawks in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Don also shared his thoughts on the Four Broncos Memorial and his appreciation towards Bill Lee, who spearheaded the memorial.
"On behalf of my family and I'm sure the rest of the families, we appreciate what Bill has done here (to build the monument). It's extraordinary, it's a project he took on and fulfilled. He makes the families much appreciative of what he has done," Mantyka said at Great Plains College in Swift Current.
Brent Ruff a 16-year-old left winger and was the Broncos youngest player on the 1986-87 team. He started the year on the team's fourth line, quickly developing and catapulting onto the team's top line where he was playing at the time of his death.
Ruff was also the youngest of four brothers (Randy, Lindy and Marty) who all played in the WHL for the Broncos organization. Lindy went onto to play in the National Hockey League and now is currently the head coach of the Dallas Stars.
The oldest of the Ruff brothers Randy who spent parts of two seasons in the WHL playing for the Lethbridge Broncos was on hand Friday and shared his memories of watching his younger brother play.
"Having watched him several times prior, whether in his bantam career or in his junior career, he was certainly a special player talent wise. He had size, could skate well and had good puck skills. The general consensus was he would have been a special player," Ruff said.
Randy was also a left winger like his younger brother and had this to say about seeing the monument being unveiled.
"It's certainly a mixed bag of emotions from tears to joy," he said. "When things like this happen you try and draw all the good thing from it, certainly there are a lot of good things about that monument today and the everlasting effect it will have on the community moving forward."
Kindersley native Trent Kresse was the oldest of the four players to pass away during the bus crash. The 20-year-old was in his first full season in the WHL after playing for the Seatle Breakers for two games in the 1984-85 season. Kresse then spent the remainder of the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons playing for the Swift Current Indians in the SJHL compiling 91 goals, 139 assists for 230 points in only 103 games.
His production in the SJHL carried over to the WHL, as he scored 28 times and recorded 28 assists in 30 games for the Broncos before the crash.
Kresse's brother, Carter was at the unveiling of the Four Broncos Memorial and shared his thoughts on the monument.
"(My first thought) actually, was awe, because something like that doesn't just pop up overnight," Kresse said. "It takes a lot of hard work, a lot of volunteers and a lot money. I can't say enough about Bill and all the volunteers, they did a wonderful job."
Carter was also able to recall the way his brother played the game.
"He was very humble, always played the game with sportsmanship, never showed up opponents and never showed up coaches. He just played hard every night," Kresse added.
The final player is Swift Current born Scott Kruger. The 5'9 centre was in his second full season in the WHL after spending his first year in Prince Albert playing for the Raiders where he led the team in scoring with 106 points.
Swift Current Broncos current Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Manny Viveiros was also part of the Prince Albert Raiders 1985-86 team and spoke about his memory of hearing about the tragic bus crash.
"I played hockey with Scottie my last year in junior hockey in Prince Albert and I still remember to this moment where I was and what time it was when I heard the news," Viveiros said.
Although Viveiros and Kruger only played together for one season, Viveiros still has fond memories of their friendship.
"He was a young man that had great energy on and off the ice. He was a young man I got along really well with and became friends with him. We spend time with each other during his rookie year and my last year in junior hockey," he said. "He was quite a competitor and a small little hockey player, but god he had a vision that very few people have in hockey. He was a fun guy to be around all the time and I considered him a friend for the short period of time I knew him for."
The four Broncos that were lost just over 30 years ago will never be forgotten, from the four-leaf clover patch on the Broncos jerseys to the banner of the clover in the rafters at the Credit Union iPlex and the two plaques in the arena to remember the young men. The monument is one more step in cementing the four players will never be forgotten, "What we keep in our memory is ours," unchanged forever.