Honouring fallen friends

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:04 AM ET

Bob Wilkie vividly remembers Trent Kresse standing up as the Swift Current Broncos bus started to slide.

"Don't worry," said Kresse, "everything will be OK."

Minutes later, when Wilkie awoke, Kresse was dead.

So too was Scotty Kruger, who lay lifeless in a Saskatchewan field after their team bus slid off an overpass during a snowstorm.

With blood on his face and a sharp pain in his hip, a dazed Wilkie immediately started searching for his shoes in the overturned bus. What he found instead were the legs of Brent Ruff whose torso was pinned under the vehicle. Seconds later he saw a bloodied Chris Mantyka reaching out towards him, unable to speak as he was being crushed to death.

Wilkie was only 17.

"I remember sitting on the side of the cold highway crying and wondering why I was left and they were taken," said Wilkie yesterday from his sports store in Hershey, Pa.

"Twenty years later, I have my answer. I finally know what 'it'll be OK' means. Twenty years later I'm here and you know what, I'm OK. It doesn't hurt as much as it used to."

Almost two decades after the foursome playing cards beside Wilkie were killed, the 37-year-old Calgarian is about to pay stirring tribute to his Broncos teammates the best way he knows how.

On the heels of a stellar minor pro hockey career that saw him win Air Canada, Memorial, Calder and Turner Cups, the man who was part of the first Calgary team ever to win the Mac's tournament is bringing a club from Hershey to participate in the 29th annual midget hockey showcase starting Boxing Day.

And they're dedicating their play to the fallen four.

"I was really close to those four guys," said the former Calgary Wranglers defenceman, whose team will wear commemorative patches with the four players' numbers. "They've never left me and I've never forgotten them.

"And I never will. What happened that day has gotten me through a lot of tough situations in my life because I recall getting through that and being stronger for it."

Making Wilkie's return even more dramatic is the fact that two days before the Dec. 30 bus crash anniversary, his team will play his former Buffaloes club in the 8 p.m. feature game Dec. 28 at Max Bell.

"That should be emotional," said the husband and father who struggled with the crash for years, playing 18 NHL games as Detroit's 41st overall pick in 1987.

"The thing that keeps coming up in my head is the Lion King -- it's the circle of life. I've come full circle."

Helping complete the circle is Medallion Developments owner Jeff Colvin, who learned of Wilkie's Mac's dream and put up more than $35,000 to make it a reality and bring the team to Calgary.

"Jeff is an unbelievable individual to be so giving to a group of kids in another country he's never met," said Wilkie, proud coach of the Medallion Generals.

"It shows there is a lot of good out there. The kids can't sleep at night. They know it's the trip of a lifetime."

A trip born out of tragedy, turned into a triumph.


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