The rebuilt Humboldt Broncos hockey team is heading to the playoffs.
The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League team was devastated after its bus and a transport truck collided at a rural intersection almost a year ago.
Sixteen people — including 10 players — were killed and 13 players were injured.
Two surviving players returned this season, but the rest of the team was essentially built from scratch after a May training camp.
The final games of the league’s regular season were held on Tuesday night.
The Broncos finished sixth out of 12 teams with 35 wins in 58 games and 74 points.
The Broncos will play the Estevan Bruins in the first playoff round starting on March 15.
“It will be a tough series,” Scott Barney, interim head coach of the team, said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “They’ve got a great team down there. They’ve got a lot of older, veteran players who have a lot of experience.”
He said he marvels at how quickly his rebuilt team has bonded over the season and how players have turned that bond into success on the ice.
“The guys came together pretty quickly out of training camp,” said Barney, who was assistant coach for the first half of the season. “It seems like they are all playing for each other.”
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Alternate captain Michael Clarke, who joined the team this year, said the Broncos have surpassed everyone’s expectations.
“I don’t think many of us knew what we were getting ourselves into coming into the year — just with what happened and with so many new players being on the same team and not playing together, it was a bit of a learning curve,” the centreman said.
Fans have filled the Elgar Petersen Arena to watch the Broncos play and others have cheered the team from afar as it rebuilt.
Clarke, who was the top scorer with 71 points, said he thinks they have handled the outside pressure well.
“We tried to shut that out and keep motivated within the room.”
Clarke wears the “A” along with fellow centres Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter, the two survivors of the bus crash who are back on the team.
“It’s good in the sense that it helps us relate to what happened even more,” he said. “Seeing two guys, Brayden and Derek, to be able to play through something like that and come back this year.
“They want to play the game they love — it motivates the rest of the guys.”
Camrud overcame a severe concussion, loss of feeling in one of his arms and neck issues. He had 27 goals and 28 assists during the regular season.
Patter, who still struggles with a leg injury, had 10 goals and 11 assists.
Barney said the three alternate captains have brought the rest of the team together.
“Having the older players that we do have in the room has really made a big difference with our team,” he said.
The Broncos lost their coach, Darcy Haugan, in the crash. His replacement, Nathan Oystrick, parted ways with the team in late December.
Barney took over as interim head coach for the rest of the season. He said the players have adjusted well to the changes.
“They seemed to buy in right away,” he said. “It showed in our performance.
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“We obviously didn’t want to change too much, so we just got them all believing in each other again, which is the biggest thing when someone new takes over.”
Barney, a former professional hockey player from Oshawa, Ont., said he has high hopes for the playoffs.
“I’ve got to keep the guys focused on the task at hand and obviously make things fun, too.”— By Colette Derworiz in Edmonton
The Canadian Press