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Wednesday, 07 November 2012 16:03

Book on ’86 Broncos' bus crash due out Nov. 10

Written by  Brad Brown
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Gregg Drinnan has new book out which chronicles the Broncos' 1980's tragedy. Gregg Drinnan has new book out which chronicles the Broncos' 1980's tragedy.

Chris Mantyka would have turned 45 this week.


Saturday, a new book — Sudden Death: The Incredible Saga of the 1986 Swift Current Broncos — will be released, paying tribute to Mantyka and his teammates who died in a team bus crash, as well as those who played on in their honour.
The December 1986 crash killed players Mantyka, Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger and Brent Ruff when the Broncos’ bus slid off a railroad overpass east of Swift Current and flipped onto its side.
“The first thing I wanted to do was make sure the four kids who died were treated with respect,” said Kamloops Daily News sports editor Gregg Drinnan, who co-authored the book with Leesa Culp and ex-Bronco Bob Wilkie.
“I didn’t know how else to go about it … I really have a lot of compassion for the people of Swift Current. They went through a lot.”
Culp was travelling behind the bus when it crashed and, unbeknownst to her at the time, held Kresse’s hand as he died.
Twenty years later, Culp’s quest to find out whose hand she’d held and what exactly she’d witnessed led her to Wilkie, who was sitting across from Kresse, Kruger, Mantyka and Ruff when the crash fatally wounded his four teammates.
Together they put together a rough manuscript which eventually found its way to Drinnan’s desk, who at the time of the crash was assistant sports editor for the Regina Leader-Post.
“The story of what the survivors went through, especially the first 10 days or so after the bus accident, had never really been told,” said Drinnan. “How hard it must have been for teenagers to survive a bus accident in which they lost four friends — and you know how tight hockey players are on a team — and to have to live through the next 10 days and then return to the ice.
“I was at the Leader-Post at the time and I went to Moose Jaw for that first game back, and I had tears rolling down my cheeks. It was an unbelievable experience and I just thought the story deserved to be told.”
The tragedy-to-triumph-to-tragedy story doesn’t stop there of course.
Six members of the 1986-87 team were on the 1988-89 team that won the Memorial Cup as national major junior champions. And Graham James, who coached the Broncos through the crash, Memorial Cup and 1993 WHL championship, was eventually convicted of multiple sex assaults against his players.
It’s all, necessarily, part of the story, along with the behind-the-scenes story of how the Broncos returned to Swift Current in the first place.
“I wanted to be sure that the book wasn’t about Graham James because I wanted the book to be about the bus accident and the players who were on the bus … but when Graham James is running around hospital asking ‘Where’s Sheldon Kennedy? Where’s Joe Sakic?’ after four of his players have died, it’s pretty tough to ignore that he was part of the story.”
Without an ounce of melodrama, Sudden Death tells the story of the crash and aftermath from the perspective of the players, coaches, managers, trainers, families, billets and reporters affiliated with the team at the time.
Central to the story are the experiences of Wilkie, Kennedy and Peter Soberlak, though many others — such as Gord Green, who later served six overseas tours for the Canadian military, and Kurt Lackten, now a commercial pilot for Hawaiian Airlines — were equally as striking to Drinnan.
“I was pleasantly surprised at how many people were willing to speak,” said Drinnan. “There were only two who refused and it wasn’t like they were angry or bitter or upset, they just didn’t feel like talking about it.
“It’s remarkable to me how all these players seem to have left what happened behind them as much as possible. You can’t live through something like that and not carry it through your life, but they certainly seem to be so well adjusted.
“Guys like Gord Green … Kurt Lackten … you just can’t survive something like that, go on to do the things these guys have done and not be well adjusted.”
The powerful tribute to the deceased and those who played on in their memory was published by Dundurn Press and will be available in Chapters, Cole’s, McNally Robinson and Amazon stores.
Drinnan says early reviews from Soberlak and Scott Kruger’s brother Darren were overwhelmingly positive.
“That really made me feel good because I was concerned, and still am concerned somewhat, with how the families of the four dead players will receive it … but I hope that they’ll be able to see it for what it is and how it was intended,” said Drinnan.

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