HUMBOLDT, Sask. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says all of Canada will be cheering for the Humboldt Broncos tonight when the Saskatchewan junior hockey team plays their first game since a fatal bus crash.
Speaking at a Liberal caucus meeting at a retreat in Saskatoon, Trudeau said the community of Humboldt suffered unimaginable shock, grief and trauma in April when the team’s bus and a tractor-trailer collided at a rural intersection.
Sixteen people, including 10 players, were killed and 13 players were injured.
The Broncos are to play their home opener tonight against the Nipawin Hawks — the same team the Broncos were supposed to face the night of the crash.
Trudeau says the community has shown incredible resilience and strength.
He says Canadians have also shown great kindness and will continue to support the community as they heal.
“I am glad to say the Broncos will be back on the ice tonight for the first time and I want to wish them the very best,” Trudeau said to applause from his caucus on Wednesday. ”You have us and 37 million fans cheering you on.”
The Broncos lost their coach, Darcy Haugan, in the crash. Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter are the only two survivors that are back playing with the junior A team this season.
The team’s new coach, Nathan Oystrick, said he’s focusing on his players and has spoken with every member at some point to let them know he is there for them.
“I’m an open guy,” Oystrick said Tuesday. ”If there is something that is bothering them, they can come and talk to me whenever they want.”
Oystrick said he understands that hockey players don’t always like talking to their coach.
That is why he has hired longtime friend and former teammate Mark Popovic as the team’s director of personal development and leadership.
Oystrick and Popovic have known each other for 15 years and first met in 2006 while playing for the NHL Atlanta Trashers’s farm team. Popovic played parts of four seasons with the Trashers and one game with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
All the players have Popovic’s phone number, Oystrick said, and know that whatever they tell Popovic stays confidential.
“Mark is a phenomenal human being and he truly cares about people,” Oystrick said. ”His role is to help the players with whatever he can.”
Oystrick said that Popovic has talked to FBI agents about how to deal with trauma. Popovic’s sister has a similar role with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Broncos also have a familiar face returning in Pastor Sean Brandow.
The team chaplain said it wasn’t a hard decision to come back.
“We want to just love these guys and care for them and be there to support them,” he said.
Brandow arrived at the crash site shortly after it happened and spoke at a vigil two days later. He also spoke at the funerals of some of the players.
“They’ve gone through hurt last year … some of these guys lost friends last year and the year before and so guys are dealing with things and will continue to deal with things,” he said.
Hockey ministry works differently with each individual team. In Humboldt, Brandow meets with players every other week for chapel and has activities and games planned.
He said that he still doesn’t have the answer as to why the crash happened.
“My faith has not been destroyed by this, in fact it’s probably been strengthened.”