April 12, 2018 10:50 pm
Updated: April 14, 2018 12:09 am

Okotoks Oilers plan to play their ‘best hockey’ in AJHL final to honour Humboldt Broncos

WATCH ABOVE: Some members of the Okotoks Oilers lost good friends in the tragic Humboldt Broncos bus crash. They've relied on each other, and the game of hockey, to help move forward as they prepare to play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League championship series. Brendan Parker reports.

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The win song.

It’s the first thing players do to celebrate inside the dressing room after a big victory on the ice.

It’s an important choice for any hockey club, considering they hope to play it on repeat over the course of the hockey season.

For the Okotoks Oilers, their track of choice is Yeah! by Usher. And they’ve had it blasting out of their sound system over 50 times this season.

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Last Friday, the Oilers beat their arch rival Brooks Bandits, in front of a sold-out crowd at the Pason Centennial Arena, to take a 3-2 series lead in the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s south division final.

“After a win like that, normally we’d have our win song on as loud as it can go,” Oilers forward Tanner Laderoute said.

But on this night, those speakers were silent.

“It feels like it’s the biggest game of your life on Friday night and then to come into the dressing room and to hear just unbelievable tragic news,” Oilers captain Carter Huber said.

Suddenly hockey took a back seat as they learned the news of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that claimed the lives of 16 people.

“We just kind of took a step out, didn’t play our music that night, we kind of just held each other, if we needed that. Really just kind of talked to each other, more of a quieter room,” Laderoute said.

“It just right away put things into perspective for us, hit close to home for everyone,” Huber added.

READ MORE: Albertans wear jerseys, donate sports equipment to honour Humboldt Broncos

Less than 48 hours later, the Oilers themselves were loading onto the team bus, heading back to Brooks for game six, which they would eventually win.

WATCH: The Okotoks Oilers and Spruce Grove Saints hit the ice together Friday night, and they honoured the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash prior to Game 1 of the Alberta Junior Hockey League championship series.

“You get a little bit shaky walking up those stairs and you think about it on the way there and the way back,” Laderoute said. “It’s tough, I just can’t imagine what they were going through when that happened and what their families have to go through.”

READ MORE: Evan Thomas’ dad explains harrowing moments before he arrived on scene of Humboldt bus crash

This week, the Oilers organization brought in grievance counsellors, Okotoks RCMP and team chaplain Frank Knight to talk to players and staff, and help them deal with the loss.

“It starts with talking, and players open a communication with them, it’s a day-to-day process and it’s weeks to weeks,” Oilers president of hockey and business operations Brad Robson said.

“It’s not necessarily always having the right things to say, it’s just making sure everyone knows you’re there and you’re behind them, that’s the main thing.”

But some of the Oilers best healing has come together, on the ice.

“It’s kind of that place for anything I’ve personally had in my entire life, that place where I can go and it takes over my mind… and I get to be outside the external world,” the 20-year-old Laderoute said.

“We’re in a fortunate position that we’re playing right now,” associate coach Kyle Schussler said. “We can fall back our teammates and the people around us that we get to see everyday right now.

Watch below: A compilation of Canadians from coast to coast donning jerseys to show support for the Humboldt Broncos

The goal for this team remains, to win an AJHL championship. But their purpose and motivation for the rest of the season has completely changed.

“I definitely think everyone is playing for the Humboldt Broncos,” Laderoute said.

“We’re going to play our best hockey to honour those boys on that team,” Huber added.

Game #1 of the AJHL Championship is Friday night at the Pason Centennial Arena in Okotoks against the Spruce Grove Saints.

READ MORE: Spruce Grove vigil for 2 Humboldt Broncos killed in bus crash sees jersey numbers retired

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