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‘Rise up, boys’: Humboldt football team in championship game after bus crash claims team members

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A -20 degree windchill blasted the 45 teenage boys running drills on a snow-covered football field in Humboldt, Sask.

The undefeated Mohawks prepared for Saturday’s championship game knowing that a provincial title would be a storybook ending, a triumph in the wake of tragedy.

The players predicted their success months ago, when they dedicated the season to their football coach and two players killed or critically injured in the Humboldt Broncos hockey team bus crash.

« We all held a piece of them in our hearts, and still do, » Mohawks head coach Cory Popoff said. 

« I think, we came together and said, ‘We’re going to play together and we’re going to go through the season together. We’re going to play for Tyler. We’re going to play for Brody. » 

Tyler Bieber, 29, was the Mohawks receivers coach for four years. He was on the Broncos’ bus as the junior hockey team’s play-by-play radio announcer. Former Mohawks player and equipment manager, Brody Hinz, 18, travelled with the hockey team as their statistician. Both were killed when the bus collided with a semi-trailer, leaving 16 dead and 13 injured, on April 6, 2018. 

Former quarterback Morgan Gobeil, 18, was a star athlete who also played with the junior hockey team. He remains in hospital recovering from a brain injury.

Tyler Bieber coached Mohawks quarterback Morgan Gobeil during the football season and interviewed him during the hockey season. (Melanie Gray)

« You gotta rise up, boys »

« I’ve learned to take nothing for granted, » Popoff said. « Everything we’ve been given, or earned, we value and we treasure and we thank people for it. It has changed me as a coach, it has changed our focus as a team. »

Popoff, who is also the principal at Humboldt Collegiate Institute, has been coaching for 20 years. He said he’s never seen a team band together quite like this one. The players would start practice early and stay late on their own to work on their conditioning.

The coaches emphasized the need to heal and take care of each other. Popoff said that translated to success on the field. 

Bieber’s favourite saying became a common refrain for the team. 

« You gotta rise up, boys. » 

A season of healing

Bieber’s mother Marilyn Hay attended the games and cheered her heart out, even as she wiped away tears.

Hay learned in the summer that some Mohawks players had gotten tattoos in honour of her son and invited them to her house. They shared stories, hugs and a promise to win the championship.

« I told them, ‘You have to win it for yourselves, too.’ But they were all hyped to win it for the boys, » said Hay. She now has her own tattoo of Bieber’s portrait and a microphone.

Some of Tyler Bieber’s former players have gotten tattoos in his honour. (Submitted by Marilyn Hay)

Despite her grief, Hay began to feel some football fever creep in. She and her other sons, Brandon and Brett, discovered that attending Mohawks games made them feel closer to Bieber. Hay can picture him pacing the sidelines in front of the players, clutching his play list, handing out high fives and pats on the back.

« I felt like I needed to be there. I felt like I needed that team to know part of Tyler was there, » Hay said. « I do truly feel him and Brody are looking from above and are with them. And I could feel Tyler with me. » 

Mohawks player Bray Berschiminsky shows Tyler Bieber’s mother an armband dedicated to his football coach, who was killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. (Submitted by Melanie Hay)

Her son’s love for the Mohawks started 15 years ago when he tried out for the team. The scrawny Grade 9 student realized he didn’t want to play on the field, but he did love the team and the game. The head coach, Shaun Gardiner, made him equipment manager and he travelled with the team for four years.

A decade later, when Bieber moved home to Humboldt, he joined the coaching staff alongside Gardiner. He would wake up at 5:30 a.m. for his morning radio gig at Bolt FM, grab an hour nap after work, then dash back out the door to coach basketball, football or flag football. He volunteered 22 hours a week on average.

« That’s what I’m missing. I want to see the jubilation in him, and all the excitement, » Hay said. « Tyler would be so pumped that [the Mohawks] went all this way. »

Focus on the moment

Brody Hinz, 18, never got a lot of playing time with the Mohawks but his commitment to the team was unrivalled. Head coach Cory Popoff says Hinz epitomizes what it means to be a Mohawk. (Melanie Gray)

Competing for a championship title in honour of those who died, in a community hungry for good news, could be a lot of pressure for a team of boys only 14 to 18 years old. Offensive coordinator Dave Rowe said he’s already told the boys that Saturday won’t be about the past.

It will be about the moment. 

« I feel like I don’t want to let those three fellas down, but I also have a pile of other kids that I don’t want to let down. I need to focus on my job, » Rowe said.

Bieber’s mother said the Mohawks have honoured their coach and former teammates, win or lose.

« I want them to know, they have [already] done it for the boys. They’ve gotten this far, and those boys would be damn proud of them. »

The Mohawks will host the Lumsden Devils in the provincial nine-man football final at Glen Hall Park in Humboldt on Saturday at 1 p.m. local time.



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A stunning Water Lantern Festival is coming to Montreal

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What might just be the most magical night ever is coming up for Montreal this year.

The Water Lantern Festival has announced that it will be gracing Mississauga with thousands of floating lanterns later this year, as part of a celebration that spans the entire world.

According to the festival’s official website, the event is a celebration of life with proceeds going towards charities and non-profit organizations within the area.

“Water Lantern Festival brings together individuals from all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life to join in one emotional and memorable night. At the Water Lantern Festival, we cherish these moments and will do our best to help you have a memorable experience that you’ll never forget as you witness the beauty of thousands of lanterns reflecting upon the water,” the website states.

The festival takes place throughout multiple cities around the world, with the Canadian cities of Quebec, Regina, Vancouver, Hamilton, Calgary, Ottawa, Mississauga, and, of course, Montreal taking part.

For the Calgary event, a date has been confirmed and tickets are already rolling out. Montreal shan’t be far behind, and you can click the Notify Me tab on the event’s site to be kept in the loop.

Expect an evening filled with food trucks, music, lantern designing and finally, a magical launch of the lanterns into the water as the sun goes down.

For our pals over in Calgary, their event includes a floating lantern, a commemorative drawstring bag, a marker, and a wristband. Expect something similar, if not the same, when more details float through about Montreal’s event.

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Euthanasia order on hold for Montreal dog that attacked children

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A pit bull dog that attacked four children and two adults in August 2018 in Montreal North will not be euthanized in the immediate future.

The euthanasia order has been temporarily suspended pending the appeal of a Quebec Superior Court decision.

On Tuesday, Judge Lukasz Granosik rejected a request to halt the euthanasia order issued by the Montreal North borough, which declared the animal a “dangerous dog.”

The City of Montreal has not changed its mind. This is only a delay before it proceeds with euthanizing the dog, a source told the Canadian Press.

Shotta, the one-year-old dog, was in the care of its owner’s acquaintance in August 2018. The dog attacked four children and two adults, causing serious injuries in separate incidents on the same day.

After the attacks, the dog was taken from the home and entrusted to the SPCA.

WATCH: Dog found dead in Angrignon Park

The Road to Home Rescue Support, an American shelter, asked the court if it could take in the dog. Christa Frineau, the dog’s owner, had also asked that Shotta not be euthanized.

Granosik refused to grant the request.

—With files from Global’s Kalina Laframboise

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9 Things To Do In Montreal This Friday, Saturday & Sunday

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Today’s sunny skies have me itching to make weekend plans. I absolutely cannot wait to make the most of this warmer weather. This might be the time to inflate my bike tires and dust off my running shoes…

Whether you want to brush up on your cooking skills, let loose, or fill your stomach with amazing food, there’s an event out there for you. Read on for 9 fun things you can do with friends or a fling this weekend.

TL;DR Read on for 9 fun things you can do in Montreal this weekend.

Let Yourself Go At Dress Up

Where: 185 Avenue Van Horne, Montréal.

When: Friday, March 29, 9:00 p.m.

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