For the Humboldt Broncos, a trip to their former head coach Darcy Haugan’s hometown gave the team a chance to prove themselves in competitive conditions.
The green and gold hit the ice for a game for the first time since April 4, as the club traveled to Peace River, Alta. for a pair of exhibition contests.
With the club rebuilding most of a roster and featuring a new coach, the two exhibition games were a bit of a feeling-out process as they suffered back-to-back losses, losing 4-2 to the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Whitecourt Wolverines
Sept. 1 and 9-5 to the Grande Prairie Storm Sept. 2.
“Hockey-wise it was alright,” said Broncos head coach Nathan Oystrick. “We played really well in some parts of the game and then other parts we got scrambling in our D-zone. We’ll need to work on it this week but from a hockey standpoint the guys competed. We saw some really good things and we saw some things that we need to get better at.”
Heading into the weekend, the Broncos had three practices as a team after camp wrapped up Aug. 24.
With three days of practice to get ready, the green and gold worked on their neutral zone and forecheck, which was a major factor for their defensive struggles, said Oystrick. While the defense struggled at times, their offense was strong, for the most part.
“We hung on to pucks, we got pucks to the net, we had bodies going to the net,” said Oystrick. “I still think we can improve on a lot of that but we saw a lot of things that we liked definitely from specific guys offensively.
The coach added that when the offense made in to the opposition’s end, they created opportunities to score.
As the weekend also included tributes to Haugan, it was a tough weekend for some members of the club. With emotions running high, the Broncos players brought their work boots with them and competed hard, a real positive sign for Oystrick.
“We were there to play hockey but also to honour Darcy. He was the face of both franchises and a huge part in both communities so I thought the guys did a good job of focusing on the game.”
With the club featuring nearly an entirely new roster, including head coach, assistant coach and athletic therapist, the trip to Alberta was also a chance for the club to do some team bonding.
The club enjoyed a number of team meals together, which was nice, said Oystrick, because it gave the players a chance to sit next to someone new and get to know other members of the club.
“Obviously we still need to get down a few players and get to our number and I think once that happens guys start gelling a lot quicker because right now there is a lot of guys. But the guys seem like they had a good time and they’re enjoying each other and we were happy with how it went.”
With a week of practice upcoming before the Broncos return to the ice for their next exhibition contest, Oystrick said defensive systems and communication will be a big focus at practice this week.
“It’s identifying players early. We got into our D-zone... and as a coaching staff we thought it was pretty quiet in there and that makes it hard to identify who you have. We need to get on bodies faster and get to loose pucks faster and we do that by talking and identifying,” he said.
The Broncos will have their next chance to prepare for the regular season when they welcome the Melfort Mustangs in a rematch of last year’s SJHL quarter-final playoff series, won in five games by the Broncos.
Puck drop is set for 7:30 pm at the Elgar Petersen Arena.