The Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) has been at a standstill since the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy on April 6.
The Broncos would lose 16 of their own, both players and staff, in the crash as they made their way to a playoff game against the Nipawin Hawks.
The playoffs are set to resume on Saturday with the Hawks hosting the Estevan Bruins.
Hawks head coach Doug Johnson said the team took a few days to recuperate from the tragedy before practices resumed on Tuesday.
“I don’t really know if there’s words. It was therapeutic, it was nice to see them back,” He said. “It was awesome in a lot of ways because the body language, the attitude was something to see, it was a total 180, (getting back on the ice) was about the best thing that could have happened to us.”
Johnson said this incident happened because of hockey and he thinks returning to the game will help players heal.
“It’s been different because everything’s a little more positive. As a coach it’s not as much x’s and o’s or strategy, it’s making sure the guys are doing ok,” Johnson told 980 CJME. “You’re not worried about bumps and bruises, you’re worried about the mental side of things right now, are they getting the help they need.”
The head coach said Tuesday’s practice was a little subdued but as the week has gone on, he’s seen the volume pick back up and laughter has slowly returned to his squad.
“Thursday was more like a normal, middle of the season, happy go lucky team,” Johnson said.
One familiar face at practice this week has been Humboldt Broncos assistant coach Chris Beaudry.
He wasn’t on the bus at the time of the crash because he travels by himself for local games.
“I know for our guys it was great to see Chris out there. Nobody’s ever dealt with anything like this, especially the young guys, a lot of times they don’t know how to deal with tragedy. For Chris to come out and show them it’s ok to laugh and ok to move on, I know meant a lot to our guys,” Johnson said.
Johnson hopes Beaudry got something out of the practices as well.
“We coach for a reason and that’s to help out the young guys, or the junior kids, minor hockey kids, the pro guys, whatever level you want to coach you want to help out, and to be able to do I hope helped Chris out a little bit too,” he said.
To help address the issue of getting back on the bus, the Hawks took a bus to Tobin for a barbecue.
Johnson said he even brought his three-year-old daughter with them on the bus.
At Saturday’s game against Estevan, the Hawks are planning a minute-long tribute to the Broncos, a speech and a moment of silence.
The players will be wearing support sticker on their helmets and special ribbons on their jerseys.
Green helmets were even donated to the teams with the idea of giving the helmets to the Broncos after the game.
Johnson and the Bruins’ coach have talked through the week about Saturday’s game.
He said it’s a bit overwhelming, but the biggest thing right now is to make sure players are well taken care of.
According to Johnson the outpouring of support for the SJHL from the hockey community since the deadly collision is beyond comprehension and wonderful.