Humboldt Broncos returning player Brayden Camrud speaks with head coach Nathan Oystrick during a team practice Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

‘It’s a road trip that we never finished:’ Humboldt Broncos back on the ice

The Broncos will host the Nipawin Hawks during the season home opener.

Brayden Camrud says he’s looking forward to hitting the ice again when the Humboldt Broncos open their season Wednesday night in front of a sold-out hometown crowd.

But it’s the bus ride back to Nipawin on the team’s schedule Friday that he’s tried not to dwell on.

“It’s a road trip that we never finished,” Camrud said Tuesday. ”It’s hard to think about.”

The opponent Wednesday night is the Nipawin Hawks, the same Saskatchewan junior A hockey team the Broncos were on their way to play April 6 when their bus and tractor-trailer collided at a rural intersection.

Sixteen people, including 10 players, were killed and 13 players were injured. Only two of the survivors — Camrud and Derek Patter — are back on the team this season.

On Friday, the team is to hit the road for a rematch in Nipawin.

Camrud doesn’t know how he will feel about getting back on the bus or if he will even take the bus at all. He doesn’t think the team will take the same route.

“It’s definitely going to be interesting,” he said. “It’s something that never should happen. All these boys should be here with you.”

Camrud is not alone in his uncertainty.

Broncos head coach Nathan Oystrick said he has no idea what the first trip will be like but thinks it will be emotional.

“To even pretend that I know what it’s going to be like, I can’t, because I’m not sure,” Oystrick said. ”I don’t know how I’m going to feel.

“We’ll get on the bus and go and if something needs to be taken care of, we’ll take care of it them.”

Related: Humboldt Broncos bus crash survivor still has a long recovery ahead: family

Related: Back on the ice: Humboldt Broncos play first regular season game since the crash

Born in Regina, Oystrick spent 10 seasons as a pro hockey player, mostly in the minor leagues. He played 65 games in the NHL for the Atlanta Thrashers, Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues. He was coaching for the Colorado Academy, a private high school in Denver, when he took the Broncos job.

Oystrick takes over as coach from Darcy Haugan, who was also killed in the crash. He said he shares Haugan’s values of respect and building good relationships, but he’s trying to bring different aspects to the job.

“I’ve said it time and time again, I’ll never be Darcy Haugan. I’m not trying to be Darcy Haugan. I’m trying to be myself,” he said. “I’m trying to bring my own elements here, my own thoughts and ideas. I’m not trying to take his spot, that’s for sure.”

This year’s team includes four players who weren’t on the bus but had played some games with the Broncos during the 2017-18 season. The remaining 16 players on the 22-player roster, as well as most of the coaching staff, joined the team after the crash.

Michael Clarke, a junior A veteran from southern Alberta, is one of the new players.

“For me, getting the opportunity as a 20-year-old to come in and try to follow what that team set as a building block for the teams to come and try to get the younger guys up to that standard that those guys have left for us is obviously pretty special for me,” he said.

Camrud, who’s also 20, said he is almost fully recovered physically from the crash.

“I had a bad concussion, I had some bleeding in my brain, some loss of feeling in my left arm, I just have some neck problems too but eventually I overcame everything and I’m here now,” he said. ”I’d say I’m close to 100 per cent now and good to go.”

Emotionally, however, Camrud paused when asked about climbing aboard the bus again.

The team played some exhibition games in Peace River, Alta., earlier this month, but they flew to those.

Camrud knows a plane won’t always be an option.

Junior hockey is about long hours on the bus.

“The bus is our second home essentially, you play half your games on the road,” he said. ”It’s a safe haven. Just thinking about the reality of it is a lot. Sometimes I just try not to think about it.”

Ryan McKenna, The Canadian Press

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