The first games the Humboldt Broncos will play since their tragic bus crash will be in Peace River. The North Peace Navigators will host the Saskatchewan Junior A Hockey team for two exhibition games against the Whitecourt Wolverines and Grande Prairie Storm in September.
Broncos head coach Darcy Haugan, who died in the April 6th crash, spent 12 years as the GM and head coach of the Navigators. Broncos assistant general manager Jason Neville says it means a lot to go back to where his friend and colleague built his career.
“He had so much success and was such a big part of the community I thought it was really important that we look into that at least,” he explains, saying the trip will also be part of the healing process for him personally.
Neville adds that because they’re building the team with players from across western Canada, it will be helpful to spend the time together.
“It gives us an opportunity to bring them all together on a four or five-day trip and hopefully start developing the culture we want and have our players gel as a team.”
Haugan was a big part of developing the culture for both the Broncos and the Navigators. Navs president Albert Cooper says he was fundamental in starting up the local Junior B team.
“I would say that there’s no doubt we would not be the same team without having Darcy in those roles,” he says. “We wanted to help young men develop character and become contributors to their communities and to their families, so that was absolutely essential to the program and Darcy fulfilled that.”
Cooper says it’s exciting for the Town of Peace River to host three Junior A teams, and he’s hoping the arena will be packed. He also believes it will be a good experience for the athletes.
“We want to support all these young kids who are trying out for their teams and we want to support the teams and the organizations as they go into this new season. Particularly in the case of Humboldt, we want to support them because we know that they’ve just experienced a body blow that’s indescribable.”
The first game on September 1st will be against the Wolverines with the puck dropping at 7:30 p.m. The next day, the game against the Storm will start at 3 p.m.
The Navigators also have a special memorial event planned to honour Haugan’s contributions and his family at their own home opener on September 22nd. Cooper says that should also include an announcement on how they plan to remember him long-term.