E:60Journalism

“It’s very exciting to have the face of hockey be involved in a project like this.”

Producer discusses E:60's "Forever Broncos," which NHL legend Wayne Gretzky narrates, exploring the Canadian junior hockey bus tragedy

One year ago, the Humboldt Broncos junior ice hockey team was traveling to an away game when a semitrailer truck collided with its bus in Saskatchewan, Canada, killing 16 of the 29 on board.

Wayne Gretzky (Photo courtesy of E:60 Twitter feed)

This Sunday at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN, E:60 will air a one-hour special “Forever Broncos,” featuring untold stories and never-before-seen footage from the players’ families, produced by Canadian native Mike Farrell, reported by Jeremy Schaap and narrated by Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky.

For Farrell, having Gretzky do the voiceover is something he could have never imagined.

“My first reaction was terrified because I was going to actually have to talk to Wayne Gretzky and hopefully not mess up,” Farrell said. “I’m going to be coaching him on the voiceover which is an intimidating prospect. But ultimately, it’s very exciting to have the face of hockey be involved in a project like this. It shows how deeply this affected the hockey community, that he would be willing to do this.”

Farrell, like many in the hockey community, says he had fond memories of riding on buses with his teammates and coaches to away games. What these players and families endured is unimaginable.

“If we can afford somebody an opportunity to let the world know what their son was about and what kind of person they were I think that’s an important thing for us to do as storytellers, to get that message across and make people understand the degree of the tragedy and what was lost through getting to know the people that were affected,” Farrell said. “Yes, they were hockey players, but they were someone’s son and daughter and husband.”

Farrell and Schaap traveled to central Canada and worked with TSN, Canada’s leading sports network to gather stories for the special.

“I was uniquely positioned to work with TSN because I worked there for nine years before I came to work on E:60,” said Farrell. “I thought it would be prudent for both of us to pull our contacts and resources together to produce as comprehensive as a story that we could.”

Farrell says the two production teams split shoots. In the ESPN piece, there’s content that was gathered by TSN producers, and in their presentation (which aired Wednesday night), there’s a lot of content that Farrell and Schaap produced.

“We’ve really tried to work together to each craft different, but similar, narratives for our respective audiences,” said Farrell. “This story in Canada has been in the news nonstop since the day it happened, whereas the knowledge of the American audience is significantly less.”

Farrell hopes viewers take away something that affected him while producing the special.

“I learned that the reservoir of strength that we have as human beings is a lot deeper than we think it is and that strength can really only come out in times of ultimate despair, or challenge, or grief,” Farrell said.

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