'The Legend of Humboldt': Elgar Petersen, namesake of Broncos' home arena, was a fixture in sports community

'The Legend of Humboldt': Elgar Petersen, namesake of Broncos' home arena, was a fixture in sports community

The Elgar Petersen arena in Humboldt has been described as the heart of the community in the Saskatchewan city.

This week, the home of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team has also been the place where thousands of people have come together to support each other in grief.

Shortly after last Friday's horrific crash involving the team's bus, which has claimed 16 lives and left 13 other injured, memorials for the team began to appear at the arena. Last Sunday, hundreds of people gathered there to mourn those killed and injured in the crash.

And while the name "Elgar Petersen" is displayed prominently above the front doors of the arena, and has been mentioned countless times in media reports this week, many do not know who the rink in Humboldt is named after. 

Who is Elgar Petersen?
The arena in the Saskatchewan city, just over 100 kilometres east of Saskatoon, was not named after an elite NHL player or a wealthy benefactor. It was named after someone who overcame a lot of his own challenges to make Humboldt a better place, residents say.

"He was a great volunteer that did a lot for the community and influenced pretty much every kid that grew up in Humboldt," said Aaron Lukan, president of the Humboldt and District Sports Hall of Fame.

"He was at the rink basically 12 to 14 hours a day and was just always there for the team."

Lukan said Petersen's challenges prevented him from playing sports himself, but he was an avid sports fan who dedicated his life to hockey and baseball in Humboldt.

Petersen began volunteering with minor hockey in Humboldt in the 1960s. In 1970, when the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's Humboldt Broncos team was founded, he became the team's trainer and equipment manager.

Over the next few decades he became a permanent fixture in the Humboldt sports community.

It was during this time that former Broncos coach Dean Brockman got to know Petersen. Brockman spent 17 years as a manager and coach with the Broncos, before going on to coach the Western Hockey League's Saskatoon Blades.

Brockman refers to Petersen as the "Legend of Humboldt," someone who, in his day, would literally serve every hockey team in the city.

"He'd be doing laundry, filling water bottles, getting sticks. He was just someone that everybody loved to be around. You couldn't get enough of him."

'Huge in Humboldt sports'
In 1999, the community of Humboldt decided it wanted to rename the Humboldt Uniplex. Neil Britz, a City of Humboldt employee at the time, put forward Elgar Petersen's name. 

"My husband was a huge Humboldt Bronco fan, and Elgar was huge within the Humboldt Broncos organization — he was huge in Humboldt sports, period. Neil thought he deserved some recognition," said Joanne Hutsel. 

Hutsel said the idea put forward by her late husband was met with unanimous support from city council. 

She said it was appropriate the Elgar Petersen Arena has been home to the community vigil and memorials for those killed and injured in the crash.

"The arena, the whole complex is kind of a meeting place. I mean, it's the biggest place in Humboldt … but it was just appropriate," said Hutsel. "It was where the team spent a big chunk of their lives. It was the home of the Broncos."

Hutsel now lives in Moose Jaw, Sask., but she says the support the community has received from across the country, and the globe, has been overwhelming.

"A tragedy always seems to be what brings a community together a lot of the time. [The support] was wonderful. It was an outpouring of love."

Honoured by Broncos coach
Petersen, 82, now lives in a nursing home in a nearby community, but he was among the hundreds of people who attended the community vigil last Sunday night at the arena bearing his name.

Friends of Petersen tell CBC he is not one for the limelight, but Lukan said it meant a lot to community members to see him there.

He said the response from the mourners shows that Petersen's contributions are still very much important to the people of Humboldt. 

Darcy Haugan — the Broncos' coach, and one of the victims of the crash — did not arrive in Humboldt until after Petersen's time.

But Lukan said the coach greatly respected Petersen's contribution to hockey in Humboldt and he took his young team to go see the elderly man in a nursing home this year.

"He felt strongly that the team should know who the arena they play in is named after," said  Lukan — an action he says speaks to the spirit of hockey in Humboldt.