Before the River East Marauders hit the ice on Saturday for their first playoff game, each player touched a jersey that had been hung up high in the bench area.

It belonged to 17-year-old Cooper Nemeth, who was found dead on Sunday.

With Nemeth, nicknamed Cip, no longer on the team, the dressing room lacks stories and jokes that helped prepare players for games that preceded this one, said team member Taylor Engel.

Cooper Nemeth

Nemeth's jersey hung in the bench area as the River East Marauders played their first playoff game on Saturday. (Wendy Buelow/CBC)

"It's pretty hard. He's a big part of our dressing room. He's always dancing around, getting us all pumped up," Engel said.

"It sucks without him. But, we're going to manage without him … because we know we'd make him smile."

On Saturday, the team resorted to another technique to prepare to play: Telling each other what they remember about him.

"We were all talking about memories of Cip. About how he made us laugh," Engel said. 

"We just all gathered together, touched his jersey, went out and just went to work our ass off."

Cooper Nemeth

Coach Barry Rochelle and Taylor Engel (right) in the bench area with Nemeth's jersey hanging up behind them. (Wendy Buelow/CBC)

Nemeth's absence on the ice has left a hole in the team, but his memory still plays an important role, Engel said.

"We're playing tough. We want to win. We want to do everything we can for Cip. That's our huge motivation. We just want to do it for Cip."

And the Marauders did win, ending the game with an 8-0 score. If they win again on Sunday, they advance in the playoffs.

For coach Barry Rochelle, this game, and the others the team has played since Nemeth's death, is an exercise in overcoming challenges.

"I'm just proud of the team that they've kept playing through all the adversity we've been through over the past two weeks," he said. 

"It's unfortunate that you have to deal with this type of a tragedy and get the team together in that way, but we've got something to play for and honour and I'm sure the boys are thinking about that every shift they're out there."