PITTSTON TWP. — When J.P Natishan and Chris McGrath heard about the tragic bus crash that killed 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, they felt they had to do something.
And that they did — the two raised $1,500 for the Canadian team.
Natishan and McGrath, both 20 and from Shavertown, are members of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights, a USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier II junior ice hockey team from Pittston. The team trains and plays at the Revolution Ice Centre off of Old Boston Road and they are coached by Tom Kowal and Josh Fusco.
A story in Sports Illustrated said of the April 6 tragedy, “An unthinkable tragedy struck Humboldt when a bus crash killed 16 members of the Broncos junior hockey team. As the small city recovers, it doesn’t want to be defined by the crash; it wants to be defined by how its heartbroken community responds.”
That’s where people like the hockey-playing Natishan and McGrath come in. The two young men decided they wanted to help the Humboldt team come back.
With the help of Sharper Embroidery & Screen-Printing of Swoyersville, in conjunction with Green Valley Landscaping, an online store — the Humboldt Broncos Hockey 2018 — was established. The online store was set up to raise money for the tragic event by selling t-shirts — in the Broncos colors of green and gold and “Humboldt Broncos Strong” emblazoned across the front.
The bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos, a junior ice hockey team that plays in the Saskatchewan (Canada) Junior Hockey League, was struck by a semi-trailer truck at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near the town of Armley .
On Thursday, Mike Harper, owner of Sharper Embroidery, handed a check for $1,500 to Natishan and McGrath that they will send to the Humboldt team organization.
“We saw that the Humboldt hockey team was devastated and we felt we should do something to help out,” Natishan said.
McGrath, whose brother, Patrick, plays for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, said it was the first time he and Natishan raised money for any cause.
”It’s kind of surreal that something like that could happen,” McGrath said. “The hockey community is close-knit. We spend a lot of time on buses, so when this happened, it really hit home. It makes you want to do whatever you can to help.”
Harper said Natishan and McGrath came to his shop with a design for a t-shirt and Harper decided he would do what he could to help the hockey players succeed on the first try at fundraising.
“We felt it was a great gesture and we wanted to be a part of it,” Harper said.
With their first endeavor a success, Natishan and McGrath are already planning a second project. A former teammate, Bobby DeFriest, has been diagnosed with a pineal gland tumor — which represents about 1 percent of all brain tumors — and they want to again do what they can to help.
“We’re asking people to pray for Bobby,” Natishan said. “And we will do another t-shirt project.”
To order a t-shirt online, go to: https://defrieststrong.itemorder.com.
Natishan said DeFriest was one of his closes teammates and he was a former roommate of McGrath.
McGrath said he will attend Wilkes University next year and play hockey for the Colonels’ new team. Natishan will enroll at King’s College and he plans to play hockey for the Monarchs. Both of them hope that they can play professional hockey one day, but they see the value in getting an education.
“As far as hockey goes, we’ll see what happens,” McGrath said. “It’s always nice to have an education in your back pocket.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.