Bus scares are common

STEVE BUFFERY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

Luke Schenn didn't appear particularly interested in talking to the media following yesterday's morning skate at the Air Canada Centre.

The rookie defenceman usually is the last off the ice after practices and it appeared the young blueliner was anxious to get showered and home for a pre-game nap.

But when asked about the bus crash carrying the Albany River Rats early yesterday morning near Becket, Mass., the Saskatoon native sat back down in his stall and collected his thoughts for a few seconds. The accident, which sent four players and the team's radio commentator to hospital, certainly resonated inside the Leafs dressing room, more so with a couple of Western Hockey League boys, Schenn and Justin Pogge.

Perhaps no other league in the world travels as far between games and spends as much time on busses as do WHL teams. The distance between Brandon and Everett, two clubs in the WHL, is further than that between Madrid and Munich.

Pogge, who spent three seasons in the WHL with the Prince George Cougars and Calgary Hitmen, can recall on at least one occasion when the team bus he was travelling on hit a deer or moose.

Schenn, the Leafs' rising young star on defence, toiled for three seasons with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL and considers himself lucky, that is, his junior teams never were involved in any serious accidents. But he certainly remembers being on the road numerous times, in the middle of a winter storm, in the middle of the night, when he felt they had no business being on the road -- not that he is laying any blame for Thursday night's crash, of course.

Still, Schenn couldn't help but suggest that perhaps teams take too many risks during the season when it comes to bus travel.

"A lot of the times, the road's really bad and teams still seem to travel, at least in the WHL. And a lot of times the teams shouldn't be travelling. (They should) just spend the night somewhere," he said. "Sometimes even the highways are shut and they find different roads to get there. Sometimes the roads are so bad you can't really see in front of you.

"Going through the Rocky Mountains, I remember a couple of times, you feel like you shouldn't really be on the road. But I guess you have to take it slow and you have to trust your bus driver. You have to be safe and not take chances in any bad conditions," he said.

In minor league and junior hockey, near-misses on the road are common and, sadly, accidents are too. The worst example of a bus crash involving a hockey team occurred on Dec.30, 1986 when the team bus carrying the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL crashed on the way to a game in Regina, killing four players, including Brent Ruff, the younger brother of Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. The future star of the Colorado Avalanche, Joe Sakic, also was on that bus. As was the case in Thursday's crash involving the River Rats, winter conditions and icy roads were a factor in the Swift Current accident of 22 years ago. Schenn, Pogge and any player in the WHL knows full well of the 1986 tragedy, partly because the WHL awards the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy to the league's Player of the Year.

For Schenn, playing in the WHL was like being on a bus "all the time."

"Our closest trip was two hours to Kamloops. And you look at teams like Prince George and Brandon, their closest is four or five hours," he said. "It seems you're always on the road, always on the bus."

Schenn's brother Brayden, a highly-skilled forward with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, plays in Brandon, the most eastern team in the WHL.

"They played last year in Portland, and it's something like a 29-hour trip. It's ridiculous," Schenn said.


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