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Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn, left, and Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog, right, wait for the ceremonial puck drop by two players from the Humboldt Broncos, Ryan Straschnitzki, second from left, and Jacob Wassermann,to start an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Denver.
David Zalubowski, Associated Press
Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn, left, and Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog, right, wait for the ceremonial puck drop by two players from the Humboldt Broncos, Ryan Straschnitzki, second from left, and Jacob Wassermann,to start an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Denver.

Jared Bednar was busy Wednesday in Pittsburgh. He had just led an Avalanche practice at PPG Paints Arena on the heels of a 6-4 victory over the Penguins in the same building some 14 hours earlier.

Colorado’s head coach wasn’t thinking about the fourth-year anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that killed 16 players and team staff members and injured 13 others on April 6, 2018.

Until I asked him about it.

“I’m always thinking about it when people bring it up,” Bednar said, with tears beginning to emerge.

Bednar and I have ties to Humboldt and the Broncos — his much deeper than mine. Bednar grew up in Saskatchewan and fulfilled his childhood dream of playing for the Broncos for two seasons from 1989 to 1991. He had old friends with sons on the bus that was bowled over by a semi-truck driver who failed to yield at an intersection in Tisdale, Sask.

The Broncos were on their way to face the Nipawin Hawks for Game 5 of their third-round playoff series in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

I’m a Colorado native. But I traveled to Humboldt with my son, Anthony, in August 2018 — four months after the crash — for his training camp and preseason stint with the Broncos. Anthony moved in with a billet family in Humboldt and was on the Broncos’ first road trip since the crash for two preseason games in Alberta.

For three weeks he was part of the rebuilding process, until becoming the last defenseman cut out of the preseason. Bednar and I exchanged texts during that time. We were both deeply involved with the community’s welfare — his naturally deeper than mine.

Bednar remains a Humboldt figurehead. He spearheads the Humboldt Broncos Memorial Golf Tournament, which will feature another 160 golfers for the fifth annual edition in August.

“I spend quite a bit of time back there in the offseason now, and seeing the people and actually following everyone on social media now, mostly guys and families and whatnot,” Bednar told me in Pittsburgh. “The healing process is there and it’s obviously going to be ongoing, but it’s good to see that the survivors are doing well, and the families are doing well when I get back up there for that tournament.”

Heading into Saturday, the Broncos were currently in the same playoff situation as they were in 2018. They were trailing in an SJHL semifinal series, this time to the Flin Flon Bombers, who won the first two games last weekend in Humboldt and again on Friday at home to come within a game of sweeping the seven-game series.

Bednar, who is currently back in Canada with the Avs’ two-game trip that ends Saturday night in Edmonton, isn’t too busy with the Avs to be unaware of what’s happening with the Broncos, and why this time of year is so difficult for so many in his adopted hometown of Humboldt (he was born in nearby Yorkton).

“This time of year brings up those memories, at playoff time, Broncos are in the playoffs,” he said. “I’ve seen some tweets, they’re doing good. But for the families that are close to it for the organization for the people in the community involved, I’m sure this time of year is tough on them.”

Manson vs. Manson. Avalanche defenseman Josh Manson went against his father, Oilers assistant coach and legendary NHL defenseman Dave Manson, for the first time in Edmonton on Saturday. Josh was injured while with the Anaheim Ducks in February, shortly after his father was promoted from the Oilers’ AHL affiliate and about a month before he was traded to Colorado.

The Mansons went head-to-head in Denver on March 21, a 3-2 overtime win by the Avs.

“I’m excited. I wish it wasn’t in the back-to-back so I could get a little bit of time with them,” Manson said prior to meeting his parents and other family and friends in Edmonton. “But it’ll still be nice to get a short visit in a massive game and see them — always cool to see (my father).”

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