Humboldt Broncos coaches prepare for highly anticipated, emotional home opener

The new Humboldt Broncos will take home ice on Wednesday for their first regular season game since the tragic and deadly team bus crash that shook the town and the hockey community as a whole.

Broncos to face Nipawin Hawks on Wednesday evening

Head coach Nathan Oystrick says the players seem excited to get the season going: 'We’re trying to move forward a little bit.' (CBC News)

The new Humboldt Broncos will take home ice on Wednesday for their first regular season game since the tragic and deadly team bus crash that shook the town and the hockey community as a whole. 

Following the game, the team will remember the 16 players, staff and members of the media who lost their lives in the April 6 bus crash. The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League's Humboldt Broncos were heading to Nipawin, Sask., for a playoff game when their bus was struck by a semi.

They will face off against the Nipawin Hawks at the Elgar Petersen Arena at 6:30 p.m. CST on Sept. 12, about five months after the deadly collision. 

The 2017-18 Humboldt Broncos will be remembered in a special memorial following this season's home opener at the Elgar Peterson Arena on Wednesday evening. (Humboldt Broncos/Twitter)

Scott Barney, the new assistant coach, said the time leading up to the big game has been trying, as players deal with the emotions that still weigh heavy on those carrying the Broncos name.

Barney said he expects the home opener to be a move in the right direction.

"I think going on the ice is healing for them, no matter if they've been in the accident or not," Barney said. "Every player has different emotions, especially wearing the Humboldt Broncos jersey."

Getting back on the bus

Barney took over the position after Mark Cross died in the crash.

He said Cross's legacy of being approachable for players is something he wants to uphold, having heard about what a great person he was.

"I want them to be able to come talk to me whenever they want," Barney said. "If it's for 10 minutes or three hours, I'm there for them."

Scott Barney, the new assistant coach, said the time leading up to the big game has been trying, as players deal with the emotions that still weigh heavy on those carrying the Broncos name. (CBC News)

The Broncos played two pre-season games in Alberta during the first week of September, which they flew to. Then, they got on a bus to travel to a game in Melfort, Sask.

The way they came together as a team is something I haven't seen in the years I've played hockey.- Scott Barney, Broncos assistant coach

"I couldn't even imagine some of the emotions going through the players' heads. But we're there for them," Barney said. "We're a support system for the players.

"They've really came together. The way they came together as a team is something I haven't seen in the years I've played hockey."

Humboldt Broncos bus crash survivor Derek Patter (left) talks to head coach Nathan Oystrick during the first day of the Humboldt Broncos training camp at Elgar Petersen Arena in Humboldt, Sask., on Aug. 24, 2018. (Kayle Neis/Canadian Press)

Head coach Nathan Oystrick said the players seem excited to get the season going. He said he's reminded them not to overthink the game, although eyes will be on them.

"We want to win every game that we can, but at the end of the day, it's still about fun," Oystrick said. "It's hockey ... it's a game. I just tell the boys not to put too much pressure on themselves and go out and play."

Support for the team 

Making sure the players have mental health supports has been a focus of the coaching staff. Oystrick said support workers will be present at all games and are always just a call away.

He said he's personally relied on family, friends and mentors, as there was no one around to pass on the reins, along with needed advice.

"This year is obviously a different year. There's people I can't call to get answers about things I need," Oystrick said. "It's been a bit of a grind, but nothing compared to what some of the families have gone through, obviously."

The new team of Humboldt Broncos getting instructions from Oystrick instructs players during training camp. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Oystrick said he wants to earn championships during his time with the Broncos, but above all, hopes to help players. He said being positive and pushing through will be the best way to remember the team throughout the season and in years to come.

"We're trying to move forward a little bit," he said. "No one will ever forget April 6. But we're trying to go out and do a job and honour those people by working hard."

About the Author

Alex Soloducha

Alex Soloducha is a web writer/reporter for CBC Saskatchewan.

With files from Olivia Stefanovich