This year’s Humboldt Broncos season will be about a lot more than just hockey.

Head coach Nathan Oystrick is back in his home province to coach the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team this season — a job made all the more important after events on April 6, 2018.

“It’s more just my drive to help people,” Oystrick said of his decision to apply for the coaching job. “I took this exact same route when I was growing up, played junior hockey in Saskatchewan and then moved to B.C., got a scholarship from there and moved on to play professionally.”

The Broncos were travelling to Nipawin for a playoff game when their bus collided with a semi-truck at the intersection of Highway 35 and Highway 335. Sixteen people — including coach Darcy Haugan —were killed and 13 others were injured in the crash.

Oystrick recognizes the importance of Haugan’s legacy, but he also wants to set his own path on the ice.

“I’ll never be Darcy Haugan. I’m not trying to be Darcy Haugan,” he said. “I think we’re two completely different people.”

In his time coaching the team, Haugan added a core covenant to the wall outside the Broncos locker room.

“Family first,” it reads. “To treat my teammates and co-workers with respect. To be thankful for the opportunity to wear the Bronco jersey.”

The covenant remains on the wall.

“I think some of the things that he has written on the wall are some of the things I believe in,” Oystrick said. “But at the same time, I’m going to come in and be Nathan Oystrick and coach my way and act the way I act.”

A self-described “journeyman” player, Oystrick played 65 NHL games in his career. He also played in the NCAA, AHL and KHL. He began his coaching career as an assistant coach in the ECHL, before taking a head coach position at Colorado Academy high school.

“I’ve wanted to be a coach for the past six, seven, eight years,” he said. “When this job came up, a couple of people reached out and asked me to put a resume in.”

Before heading into his interview, Oystrick said the best advice he received was to simply be himself — recognizing Haugan’s legacy and coaching the team in his own way.

The Broncos team is rebuilding both its coaching staff and its roster. Oystrick hired Scott Barney and Tyrol “Skip” Deeg to work as the team’s new assistant coach and athletic therapist/equipment manager. The pair will take over for Mark Cross and Dayna Brons, who both died in the bus crash.

Ten players died that night — and many others suffered serious injuries. In the end, only two players will return to the ice for the Broncos this year — Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter. Oystrick said they’re looking ahead to success this season, just like everyone else working to rebuild the Broncos.

“They’re here to play hockey. They want to play hockey, they want to be leaders on this team and they want to help the team in any way they can,” Oystrick said.

The team held an expanded training camp and received 10 players in an SJHL dispersal draft over the summer. The rebuilding process has been difficult, on and off the ice.

“We’ve had some really tough days,” Oystrick said. “There (are) things going on that are out of my control and out of other people’s control. But, at the same time, our scouts and our assistant GM did a great job of finding players and now it’s our job to see what we have.”

The SJHL franchise is at the centre of unprecedented attention provincially, nationally and worldwide.

“It’s not easy and I don’t think the rest of the year will be easy,” Oystrick said. “We have some hard work ahead of us. But, it’s something we all signed up to do and are willing to do and now we’ve just got to keep pushing forward and see what happens.”

Whether as a player or a coach, Oystrick wants to win. But, the win-loss column won’t be the only thing he uses to measure his team’s success this season.

“I base my success off the players I help,” he said. “Wins and losses are wins and losses. At the end of the day, my job is to help people and help these young men become better hockey players and help them become better human beings.”

“Obviously I want to win. Whether I play or coach, I want to win a championship. But, when I look back on this year, it will be who did I help, how did I help, what could I have done better, what could I have done more of.”

The Humboldt Broncos will take on the Nipawin Hawks at Elgar Petersen Arena on Wednesday night.

The game will air on CTV Saskatchewan and TSN.