When Brayden Camrud laces up his skates for the Humboldt Broncos season opener Wednesday night, almost every face around him will be new.
Camrud is one of only two players returning to the Broncos after April’s tragic bus crash.
“I’m just trying to stay focused on the game,” Camrud says. “We still have a job to do. We have a team this year, and we’ve got to win. That’s where I’m trying to lay all my focus.”
Sixteen people were killed and 13 injured on April 6 when the team bus was hit by a tractor-trailer that police say failed to stop at a red flashing light. The driver faces multiple charges of dangerous driving causing death and dangerous driving causing bodily harm.
Nearly the entire roster and coaching staff had to be rebuilt in the offseason.
Despite the challenges, new head coach Nathan Oystrick says the team is coming together. “The coaching staff has never seen a team gel quicker,” Oystrick says. “This is a very tight-knit group.”
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The Broncos will take to the ice this season without a team captain. The coaching staff has picked three assistant captains, but has chosen to keep the captain position open in memory of Logan Schatz, the player who wore the “C” last season.
“It’s a way for us to honour Logan from last year,” says Oystrick. “He didn’t get to finish the job.”
One of the last members of the staff hired was athletic therapist and equipment manager Tyrol Deeg. He joined the team just a week before training camp.
Deeg replaces Dayna Brons, the team’s athletic therapist who died a few days after the crash. He says he expected the job to be emotional, but has still been shocked by how affected he’s been at times.
“When I started going through the trainer room, it was pretty tough,” Deeg says. “The hardest part was going through the desk. There was a moment every day for the first week where I’d go through a drawer and find papers and stuff she’d filled out and stuff like that. Some days, I’d find stuff and I’d just walk away for 15 minutes.”
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A special ceremony will be held to remember the players and staff who were lost. It’s slated to take place after the game, instead of prior, to make it easier on the players.
There was a ceremony prior to a pre-season game in another city. When it was over, two players were still crying during the opening faceoff.
Camrud says he’s been holding back his emotions, but after the final buzzer on Wednesday night, expects to let go.
“As soon as the third period ends, I can just kind of let loose,” Camrud says. “Whatever emotions I have can just take over me. I can just be overwhelmed, you know. It doesn’t really matter.”
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Christina Haugan predicts an emotional night. Haugan lost her husband in the crash, head coach Darcy Haugan.
“It’s probably going to be hard to watch – to see someone else behind the bench and to see the boys come back on the ice,” she says. “Because we were so heavily involved. There are a lot of emotions tied up in that.”
Haugan says she’ll take a step back from the Broncos this season. The team is too closely tied to her late husband. She says for now, it’s too personal.
“I’m sure my kids will still go to games. They’ll still be with their friends,” Haugan says. “We’ll still be cheering them on from afar. I can’t say I won’t go to any games, but I don’t know.”