An emotional return to the ice
Humboldt coach prepares team for start of a new season
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.
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.