Matt Kenney knows what it’s like to drive down Saskatchewan’s highways with the Humboldt Broncos.

He spent most of the 2014-15 season with the team, meaning he was with them on road trips that ranged from two to nine hours in length.

“The road trips are honestly something special,” he says.

“It’s where you get that tight bond. It’s where you make your friends – you’re on that bus, you’re laughing, you’re telling jokes, you’re singing songs with each other.”

Now a student and varsity hockey player at the University of Guelph, Kenny was taking a break from homework Friday night when he saw news of a bus crash involving the Broncos on Twitter.

He messaged the family he had lived with while in Humboldt, asking them what was happening. The answer was worse than anything he’d imagined.

“It’s just heartbreaking to hear,” he says.

Fifteen people were killed in the collision, including the team’s head coach and captain. Fourteen others were injured. Officials have said that the team bus was T-boned by a transport truck.

Shock at the tragedy rippled through the hockey community and beyond. Tributes continued to pour in from around the world on Saturday as a fundraiser set up for the Broncos passed the $1-million mark.

Kitchener Rangers director of hockey operations Murray Hiebert grew up and started his hockey career in Manitoba. He took many hockey bus trips down Saskatchewan’s Highway 35, where he would have passed by the exact spot where the crash occurred.

“There are literally no words. Everybody knows how devastating this is,” he says.

“From Newfoundland to British Columbia, it just affects the whole country, because everybody can identify with this situation. It’s just tragic.”

Kenney says he’s not surprised in the least to see the support the people of Humboldt have received from the hockey world, or the support they’ve been giving each other since Friday night.

He says the Broncos aren’t just considered a hockey team in Humboldt, but an expression of the city’s identity. Players are often asked to appear at public events, and even at birthday parties.

Although the town’s population is less than 6,000, Kenney says it wasn’t unusual for there to be nearly 1,000 people in the stands on game night.

“The community sticks together through thick and thin. It’s a community that always is going to stick together, no matter what,” he says.

“You have little children grow up and want to be Broncos and wear the jersey that you’re wearing. It’s something truly special.”

With reporting by Daryl Morris