By Dave Leaderhouse
Surrey, Northern Michigan, Atlanta, Anaheim, St. Louis, Chicago, Peoria, Portland, Praha (Czech Republic), Springfield, Elmira and Colorado!
It has taken 18 years, with thousands of miles of travel and stops in the aforementioned centres both as a player and a coach, but Nathan Oystrick has finally found his way home to his native Saskatchewan as the Regina product was recently selected to be the new head coach and general manager of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Humboldt Broncos.
“I’m very excited about this opportunity,” explained Oystrick on the weekend as he put the finishing touches on packing up his family in Colorado before making the journey north to Humboldt. “It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m looking forward to it. I realize there are going to be ups and downs, but I’m going to do my job the best I can.”
Oystrick played his minor hockey in Regina and was part of the Air Canada Cup championship team in 1999 while playing with the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League’s Regina Pat Canadians. After a brief time with Notre Dame, Oystrick returned to Regina to finish his midget hockey the following season before embarking on the 18-year odyssey that included him being selected in the seventh round of the 2002 NHL entry draft by the Atlanta Thrashers.
Oystrick got into 65 games in the NHL with Atlanta, Anaheim and St. Louis, recording five goals and 10 assists, but the majority of his professional career was spent in the American Hockey League where he was part of another championship team when the Chicago Wolves captured the Calder Cup in 2008.
Oystrick’s final year as a player in 2015-16 also saw him get into coaching as he did double duty with the Elmira Jackals of the East Coast Hockey League. He then became an assistant coach with the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators before becoming the head coach of Colorado Academy last year.
The 35-year-old Oystrick, who followed up on a suggestion by friends in the hockey world to apply for the Humboldt job, now steps into the spotlight taking over a team that was decimated by a tragic bus crash in April when 16 players and staff members were killed while enroute to a playoff game in Nipawin. He succeeds Darcy Haugan, who was one of those who lost his life in the tragedy, and while Oystrick never met Haugan he has nothing but respect for him.
“I think him and I shared a lot of the same qualities,” says Oystrick. “I know about his covenant (painted on the wall outside the Broncos’ dressing room) and I agree with it.”
Oystrick says during his career, one which saw him being captain or alternate captain on several teams, he experienced situations where his coaches “sugar-coated” things. He has no plans to be like that at all.
“I want to be really honest with everyone,” says Oystrick. “There might be times when they might not like what they hear. I’ll take the heat if I have to. I will put a lot of things on myself; I’m ready to face the music.”
“The bottom line is I want to win championships,” adds Oystrick. “I expect the team to compete every single night.”
Once he gets settled in Humboldt, Oystrick will begin the tall task of assembling a team so they are ready for the start of the season in mid-September. He says a lot of work has already done with a dozen players already signed for the upcoming season and more are constantly reaching out to be a part of the team.
“We’re not starting from scratch,” says Oystrick.
Aside from assembling a team from the ground up Oystrick realizes the situation in Humboldt is unlike anything ever experienced in the hockey world. There is going to be a lot of media attention beginning with opening night when the game between the Broncos and Nipawin Hawks will be televised nationally on TSN.
“I don’t know how you really plan for everything, but once the team is set we will have a big meeting and talk about the media, ups and downs to be expected during the season and the community,” says Oystrick.
Community! As much as the Broncos organization was hurt by what happened last spring, the community is also still recovering from the accident and Oystrick knows how important the team is to helping in the healing process.
“I want to be out in the community and I want the players to be out in the community,” says Oystrick. “I want to build a culture where we are all like a family.”
It has been a long road to get back to his roots, but Oystrick is happy it has led him to Humboldt. The Broncos and SJHL are fortunate to have him back in Saskatchewan as well.