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Humboldt Broncos ready for emotional return to the ice

New season. New head coach. New players. But the memories from last season will never be replaced.

Wednesday night, inside a sold out Elgar Petersen Arena, the Humboldt Broncos will be playing hockey again in what should be an emotional scene.

It was the night of April 6 that 16 people, including 10 players, were killed and 13 others injured in a bus crash as the team was traveling to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League game in Nipawin, Saskatchewan. The summer was spent healing and rebuilding. Despite the tragic loss, the team was determined to play again to help the community of Humboldt.

Among the dead was Broncos head coach Darcy Haugan, who’d been behind the bench since 2015. During the NHL Awards in June, he was honored as the first recipient of the Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award, which is awarded to “to an individual who – through the game of hockey – has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society.” 

Ten members of the Broncos reunited on stage in Las Vegas, along with Haugan’s wife, Christina, to accept the award.

Replacing Haugan behind the bench is former NHLer Nathan Oystrick.

“I’ve said it time and time again: I’ll never be Darcy Haugan. I’m not trying to be Darcy Haugan. I’m trying to be myself,” Oystrick recently told the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. “For the people that knew him, they loved him to death. But I’m trying to bring my own elements, my own thoughts and ideas. I’m not trying to take his spot, that’s for sure. There are things, obviously, from his core covenant, that I believe as well: that’s relationships and respect … But at the same time I’m just trying to be myself and coach the way I coach and do the best I can.”

As the Broncos prepare to take the ice for their season opener, their hearts and minds will be on those lost on April 6 as well as Layne Matechuk and Morgan Gobeil, two players who remain hospitalized as they recover from traumatic brain injuries. Gobeil’s family released a statement on Monday saying that he’ll remain in hospital for a few more months with a long road of recovery ahead.

The hockey world rallied around Humboldt and the team following the crash. A GoFundMe campaign raised over $15 million and total donations reached $20 million. (According to TSN Frank Seravalli, it’s still being determined how to disperse the money, which will go only to the 29 families who had someone traveling on the bus that night in April.) In August, Chandler Stephenson of the Washington Capitals used his day with the Stanley Cup to bring it to Humboldt, a promise he made before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was evident that around every corner, the Broncos had the support of many around the world.

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When the post-game ceremony ends, the Broncos will then begin preparing for the next hurdle. On Friday, they’ll begin their first road trip since the crash as they travel to Nipawin, the destination they were heading to on April 6. It’s “a road trip that we never finished,” said Brayden Camrud, one of two survivors who returned this season.

The final standings won’t matter at the end of the season. The fact that the Broncos are back on the ice with the support and love of the Humboldt community and hockey world will help get them through what will be an emotional season.

“They’ve gone through hurt last year,” Oystrick told the Canadian Press. “Some of these guys lost friends last year and the year before. So guys are dealing with things and will continue to deal with things.

“My faith has not been destroyed by this, in fact it’s probably been strengthened.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Trocheck hasn’t missed a beat for Panthers

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Vincent Trocheck wasn’t even supposed to be playing for the Florida Panthers this soon, let alone seemingly jumping right back to full-strength, as if his ankle was never fractured.

Heading into Friday, the Panthers were on a seven-game losing streak, facing a weekend that sure looked like it would set the stage for one or two additional losses.

Instead, the Panthers now have back-to-back wins, and they’ve done so against two legitimate NHL contenders.

On Friday, the Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1. Trocheck assisted on Mike Matheson‘s game-winning goal, posted highly impressive possession stats, three shots on goal, and seven (!) hits.

That would have already been a highly impressive effort for a player coming off a pretty traumatic injury, but Trocheck was arguably even better during Saturday’s 4-2 win against the Nashville Predators.

While his fancy stats were a little choppier, Trocheck showed up on the scoreboard even more, generating a goal and an assist. He looked awfully spry on that goal, by the way:

That breakaway score ended up being the game-winner, actually.

After generating three points in his two games back, Trocheck now has 17 points in 20 games this season.

Now, the Panthers points as a team? They’re now at 46 points in 47 games played, leaving them at least 12 points behind the Penguins (who have 58 points, and could add more against the Golden Knights during a Saturday game that’s in progress). To put things mildly, the odds are stacked high against the Panthers for a credible push toward a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Then again, the odds were also against Trocheck returning as soon as mid-January, and he’s instead making a big impact for Florida.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Ref pushing Blues’ Barbashev gives us some comic relief

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In these trying times, sometimes you just need to see a zany mishap where a hockey player loses a skate blade, and hilarity ensues.

OK, that might be highly specific, but such bits of bad luck usually do provide some real comedy. Even by those standards, this was some good stuff, as Blues forward Ivan Barbashev got a boost from an on-ice official, and it was quite a boost down the ice.

You can watch that moment in the video above this post’s headline, and likely have a nice chuckle.

The Blues ended up beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 on Saturday, so Barbashev & Co. can share a bigger laugh after the game.

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Speaking of comic relief and needing a push, enjoy the Zamboni from Saturday’s Oilers game:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins’ Rask helped off ice after huge collision

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Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask needed help off of the ice – and took quite a while to leave the ice – after a frightening collision with New York Rangers forward Filip Chytil.

Moments after this post went up on Saturday, the Bruins provided an unsettling – if, sadly, not surprising – update that Rask suffered a concussion and will not return to the game.

You can see the collision (and get an idea of how long it took Rask to leave the ice) in the video above this post’s headline.

This is the Bruins’ final game before the All-Star break, and they won’t play again until they host the Winnipeg Jets in Boston on Jan. 29, so at least there isn’t much pressure for Rask to rush back to action too soon.

Rask began the game tied with Tiny Thompson at 252 wins, the most in Bruins’ franchise history.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Erik Karlsson misses Sharks game on Saturday

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Considering how much Erik Karlsson has been heating up along with the San Jose Sharks lately, it would have been fun to see him skate against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that once tried to acquire him.

That’s not happening on Saturday, as Karlsson was a late scratch for the game.

The Athletic’s Kevin Kurz reports that Karlsson was “limping noticeably” and favoring his left side following the Sharks’ 6-3 loss to the Coyotes on Wednesday. Kurz also reports that Karlsson hasn’t participated in practice or pregame skates for about a week.

Paul Gackle of the Mercury News points out that Karlsson was held out for most of the third period of Tuesday’s 5-2 win against the Penguins for “precautionary reasons,” yet Sharks coach Peter DeBoer indicated that the 28-year-old was expected to play on Saturday. Instead, Karlsson must have determined that he wasn’t good to go after skating a bit during warm-ups.

Saturday’s game against the Lightning marks the second of a four-game road trip. The Sharks are set to play against the Panthers in Florida on Monday (Jan. 21) and the Capitals in Washington on Tuesday (Jan. 22), then they’ll be off for the All-Star break.

Karlsson was one of the Sharks’ three selections to the 2019 NHL All-Star Game, but we’ll see if what seems like a lower-body injury ends up sidelining him from the event. Either way, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Swede miss at least one of the Sharks’ remaining two games before the break, considering that it’s a back-to-back set.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic is also out with an injury, so the Sharks are limping – can Sharks limp? – a bit into that run of off time.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.