Tattoo artist Mike Peace works on a tattoo on Humboldt Broncos bus crash survivor Ryan Straschnitzki’s arm to commemorate the crash, in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, March 5, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

‘I want to remember:’ Survivors, families mark Broncos tragedy forever with ink

Straschnitzki, paralyzed from the waist down, was one of 13 players injured

It’s a day many want to forget. It’s the people they want to remember.

“I always have him with me now,” former Humboldt Broncos hockey player Ryan Straschnitzki says after a three-hour tattoo session in Calgary.

Permanently inked into the skin of his right arm is the motto of Boncos head coach Darcy Haugan: “It’s a great day to be a Bronco gentlemen.”

Haugan was one of 16 people who died after the junior hockey team’s bus and a semi collided at a crossroads in Saskatchewan last April 6.

Straschnitzki, paralyzed from the waist down, was one of 13 players injured.

“I think everyone lives by that quote,” says the 19-year-old from Airdrie, Alta.

Other players who survived have also had Haugan’s words marked onto their bodies. Straschnitzki has 10 hockey pucks as well with the jersey numbers of the teammates he lost.

Chris Joseph of St. Albert, Alta., never got a tattoo in all his years of playing in the National Hockey League.

He has one now, in memory of his 20-year-old son, Jaxon, who died.

It’s a favourite photo of Joseph holding a crying two-year-old Jaxon at a Vancouver Canucks family skate. “We always found it funny and joked about how his hockey career almost ended before it started,” Joseph says.

“I put it on my left forearm because I wanted to see it every day. The reminder isn’t of that day. The reminder is of Jaxon’s memories.

“I don’t care to remember April 6 that much. It’s every single day before that I want to remember.”

Kevin Matechuk of Colonsay, Sask., waited a month before his son, Layne, woke up from a coma. The 19-year-old is still suffering from a brain injury and has trouble speaking.

Matechuk got the word “believe” tattooed on his arm with his son’s hockey number — 28 — under it.

“We just really felt that we had to believe that Layne was going to get better,” he says. ”Just about a month ago Layne wanted it too, so he got it on the same spot.

“A lot of times when I get kind of depressed and feeling down and if Layne’s not around, I just look at it and it reminds me of how far he’s come and it helps.”

Tyler Smith of Leduc, Alta., was also injured in the crash but recovered enough to rejoin the Broncos for a month at the beginning of the hockey season.

Smith, 20, had 16 birds tattooed on his left shoulder blade to honour those who died.

“I don’t know what it is about a tattoo, but it definitely just gives you a sense of comfort and peace … You have something on your body to represent them and hold that memory.”

One of the birds has a pink tail, explains Smith, in memory of the team’s athletic therapist, 24-year-old Dayna Brons of Lake Lenore, Sask., the only woman riding on the Broncos bus that day.

READ MORE: Forgiveness can help healing process in cases like Humboldt tragedy: experts

Janelle Glessman has an intricate tattoo on her leg to remember her sister. It’s a fox (because she and Brons both painted a fox at an art class), two sunflowers with brown centres like her sister’s brown eyes, and various leaves and flowers in groups of five.

“She had so many fives that happened throughout her life,” says Glessman.

The sisters were born five years, five months and five days apart. Brons was born in May, the fifth month. She played sports and just about every time picked the number five to wear.

Brons died in hospital five days after the crash.

“It took me awhile on what I wanted,” says Glessman. “Every part of the tattoo has meaning.”

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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