An emo­tional re­turn to the ice

Hum­boldt coach pre­pares team for start of a new sea­son

Fort McMurray Today - - SPORTS - RYAN MCKENNA

HUM­BOLDT, Sask. — The head coach of the Hum­boldt Bron­cos says he’s not sure what to ex­pect when his play­ers get on the ice Wednesday night for their first reg­u­lar-sea­son game since the team was in­volved in a deadly bus crash.

Nathan Oys­trick said he hopes it’s just like any other game and that the team is fo­cused on play­ing its best.

But he said he knows it could be tough, es­pe­cially for the play­ers who are re­turn­ing to the Bron­cos this year.

“I don’t know how our play­ers are go­ing to re­act,” Oys­trick told an after­noon news con­fer­ence in Hum­boldt on Tues­day.

“Ob­vi­ously the re­turn­ing play­ers — it is go­ing to be very emo­tional for them. Ei­ther way it is go­ing to be an emo­tional game. And I am hop­ing that once the puck drops, our guys are fo­cused and ready to play hockey.”

The op­po­nent Wednesday is the Ni­pawin Hawks, the same ju­nior A hockey team the Bron­cos were on their way to play April 6 when their bus col­lided with a trac­tor-trailer at a ru­ral in­ter­sec­tion.

Six­teen peo­ple, in­clud­ing 10 play­ers, were killed and 13 play­ers were in­jured.

Only two of the sur­vivors — Derek Pat­ter and Bray­den Cam­rud — are back on the team this sea­son and were to play in Wednesday’s sold-out game.

Four sur­vivors have signed to play hockey at post-sec­ondary in­sti­tu­tions in On­tario and Prince Ed­ward Is­land this fall. Two re­main in hospi­tal suf­fer­ing from brain in­juries, while two oth­ers were par­a­lyzed in the crash.

This year’s team in­cludes four play­ers who weren’t on the bus but had played some games with the Bron­cos dur­ing the 2017-18 sea­son: Mitchell Giro­lami, Rea­gan Pon­celet, Zach Mcin­tyre and Kade Olsen.

The re­main­ing 16 play­ers on the 22-player ros­ter, as well as most of the coach­ing staff, joined the team af­ter the crash.

Born in Regina, Oys­trick spent 10 sea­sons as a pro hockey player, mostly in the mi­nor leagues. He played 65 games in the NHL for the At­lanta Thrash­ers, Ana­heim Ducks and St. Louis Blues. He was coach­ing for the Colorado Acad­emy, a pri­vate high school in Den­ver, when he took the Bron­cos job.

Oys­trick takes over as coach from Darcy Hau­gan, who was also killed in the crash along with as­sis­tant coach Mark Cross. An­other as­sis­tant coach, Chris Beaudry, has taken a new po­si­tion with a dif­fer­ent team in the Saskatchewan Ju­nior Hockey League.

Hau­gan’s wi­dow, Christina, said it’s go­ing to be tough to see the Bron­cos back on the ice with­out her hus­band.

“Not hav­ing Darcy be­hind the bench like he should be and watch­ing the team is go­ing to be in­cred­i­bly hard and emo­tional. But we will do it kind of like we have done all the other steps in this jour­ney and it is one mo­ment at a time,” she told Regina ra­dio sta­tion CKRM in an in­ter­view this week.

Oys­trick said he shares Hau­gan’s val­ues of re­spect and build­ing good re­la­tion­ships, but he’s try­ing to bring dif­fer­ent as­pects to the job.

“I’ve said it time and time again, I’ll never be Darcy Hau­gan. I’m not try­ing to be Darcy Hau­gan. I’m try­ing to be my­self,” he said. “I’m try­ing to bring my own el­e­ments here, my own thoughts and ideas. I’m not try­ing to take his spot, that’s for sure.”

He said the em­pha­sis will be on be­ing com­pet­i­tive, but hav­ing fun.

“I hate los­ing and the play­ers in the dress­ing room hate los­ing also. But again, at the end of the day, it is a game,” he said.

“We have to go out and have fun.”

A post-game cer­e­mony will be held Wednesday to hon­our all those af­fected by the crash.

The Bron­cos will be back on the team bus Fri­day for a game in Ni­pawin.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Hum­boldt Bron­cos re­turn­ing player Bray­den Cam­rud speaks with head coach Nathan Oys­trick dur­ing a team prac­tice Tues­day. The Bron­cos will host the Ni­pawin Hawks dur­ing the sea­son home opener.

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