HUMBOLDT, Sask. — Nathan Oystrick is adamant his door will always be open for Humboldt Broncos players to come and chat this season.
The Saskatchewan junior A hockey team’s new head coach says he 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.”
The Broncos are to play their home opener on Wednesday night against the Nipawin Hawks.
Humboldt was on its way to play the Hawks in a playoff game on April 6 when the team bus and a tractor-trailer collided at a rural intersection. Sixteen people, including 10 players, were killed and 13 players were injured.
Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter are the only two survivors that are back playing with the Broncos this season.
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.”
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Ryan McKenna, The Canadian Press