La Crete hockey team gives championship winnings to family of former coach killed in Humboldt crash
'He was so big in our lives, it just felt right,' says team captain about donation
A northern Alberta recreational hockey team hoisted the La Crete Challenge Cup Sunday in memory of a former coach who welcomed them to junior hockey.
The Pizza Place Pioneers donated their $13,000 first-place prize to Humboldt Broncos coach Darcy Haugan's widow and two sons.
Haugan was one of 15 people killed when the Humboldt Broncos's bus collided with a transport truck near Tisdale, Saskatchewan on April 6.
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The La Crete recreational team found out about Haugan's death after stepping off the ice that evening, following the first of five games in the 2018 Challenge Cup tournament.
Haugan coached 12 of the team's 18 players during his time with the Peace River Navigators junior hockey team.
Team captain Brenton Wiebe, 26, said the players agreed in the locker room to donate their prize money over the weekend.
"It's such a small thing that we can give back to him for him being there all the time for us," Wiebe said. "He was so big in our lives. It just felt right."
Two La Crete businesses also contributed a combined $1,800 to the team's donation, raising the final amount to $14,800.
Wiebe, who played for Haugan from 2009 to 2012, said he couldn't stop thinking about his former coach during the remaining tournament games.
Haugan recruited him from a team in La Crete in 2009. After moving to Peace River, Wiebe said he turned to the coach to cope with the grief of losing his father as a child.
"He brought me into his office and we just talked for hours," he recalled. "He literally cared about everybody like they were his sons. His passion extended way beyond the game."
He hopes the gesture of donating Sunday's prize money will offer a fraction of the same comfort to Haugan's sons.
The two boys often tagged along with their father to hockey games and practices in Peace River.
"I can definitely relate to where his kids are at," Wiebe said. "We're here for them."
'Made us feel like a family'
The Pizza Place Pioneers team plans to travel from La Crete to Humboldt for Haugan's funeral on Saturday.
The trip will be an opportunity to support his widow and two sons, said Joshua Peters, who played for Haugan from 2010 to 2014.
"Any support that we can give them, we'll be ready and willing to do whatever it takes to get through this tough situation," Peters said.
The 26-year-old said he owes his education to Haugan, who pushed him to apply for college during his last year with the Peace River Navigators.
"I was pretty immature when I came in to play for the Navigators and he molded me into a leader," Peters said. "He just gave me so much confidence and always encouraged me to hold my head high."
Haugan recruited heavily from La Crete, a northern Alberta hamlet of less than 2,000 people. Peters recalls the former coach welcoming the young men to Peace River with spaghetti dinners cooked by his wife.
"He just opened up his arms to us and made us feel like a family."
While he coached the Peace River Navigators, Haugan also hosted two junior league games every year in La Crete so team members from the community could play for their families.
"(It's) another big reason why he impacted the La Crete community," Peters said.