On Saskatchewan’s doorstep, the Manitoba hockey community feels Humboldt’s heartache.

In Virden, 16 hockey sticks lean against the Tundra Oil and Gas Place. A large sign reading Humboldt Strong hangs above the arena’s entrance.

Inside the rink, a table is set up with 16 framed photographs of the Humboldt Broncos players and staff who passed away. It’s flanked with green and yellow balloons and covered with a blank banner so people can write condolence and messages of support. 

The Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) postponed its playoff series following the Humboldt bus crash Friday.

That same night, the Steinbach Pistons and the Virden Oil Capitals battled in Game 1 of a best-of-seven series. Virden won. But when the game finished, coaches had to break the news that the Humboldt Broncos were involved in a deadly crash.

The Virden Oil Capitals had a long bus ride home.

“It was a quiet bus ride,” said Troy Leslie, the general manager and coach of the Virden Oil Capitals.

“Our players were in shock.”

Game 2, initially set for Sunday, was postponed out of respect for the Humboldt Broncos and so players and coaches in the MJHL could mourn. Thursday night, the series resumes with a special tribute to the Broncos.

In a salute to the team, both the Steinbach Pistons and the Virden Oil Capitals donned jerseys that replaced player’s last names with “Broncos.” Proceeds from T-shirt sales, green ribbon donations and the 50/50 draw are bound for the Humboldt Broncos.

“Obviously we want to pay tribute to the Humboldt Broncos and know they have our full support,” Leslie said.

Before the puck dropped, players, billet families and first responders stood side by side on the ice as videos honouring the Broncos were played. All was still for a 16-second moment of silence.

“Hockey has the ability to unite people,” the announcer said as part of the ceremony.

“We are Humboldt strong.”

Kurt Ardron , Virden’s public address announcer, brought two old microphones into the booth with him to honour Tyler Bieber, the Broncos’ play-by-play announcer.

Before the game began, Steinbach Pistons player Luke Bellerose took a moment to write a message of condolence. He knew both head coach Darcy Haugan and player Conner Lukan and believes it’s best to honour the team by playing.

“We have the opportunity to play this awesome sport that those guys unfortunately lost their lives for. But I mean, to be out here, and to do it for them is a special thing for me,” Bellarose said.

The two teams are battling for the Turnbull Cup. The winner will play the winner of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL), the same league the Humboldt Broncos were trying to win.

While the MJHL believe a pause in play was necessary, so too was finishing the finals.

“You almost feel bad moving forward but you do have to and it’s going to be a part of the healing process for everyone to get through this game and keep going,” Kevin Saurette, director of operations for the MJHL, said.

The Virden Oil Capitals won the game. The team beat the Steinbach Pistons 4-3 and now lead the series 2-0. Game 3 is in Steinbach on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.