The boys — nine-year-old Dawson Pentecost, nine-year-old Logan Spence and his 10-year-old brother Gage Spence — were killed Sunday when the small plane went down outside their homes in the small community of Waskada.
Experienced pilot and crop duster Darren Spence, 37, had taken his two sons on a routine recreational flight and their friend went along for his first plane ride.
Jason Wickham, an assistant coach on the local co-ed Canucks atom team, said after the crash that everyone on the squad wanted to quit.
But the parents of the remaining eight players got together and talked. Then they all went to visit the families of the dead children.
"They really want us to play. They said, 'The boys, they would want you guys out there playing hockey,'" said Wickham.
"This is something we need to do for Gage and Logan and Dawson — go and represent them as best we can."
Family said Dawson's father, a volunteer firefighter, received a message on his pager about a plane crash and was one of the first to get to the wreckage by snowmobile. He fell to his knees and cried when he realized everyone on board was dead.
The Transportation Safety Board said the plane, a six-seater Cessna 210, left a private airstrip just outside town about 1 p.m. Its emergency beacon went off 17 minutes later, although people in town reported seeing a plane flying in the area throughout the afternoon.
The plane wasn't found until about 6:30 p.m. A military search and rescue plane from Winnipeg was also called in to help.
Investigators have yet to determine the cause of the crash but there was some fog and snow at the time.
The tragedy has devastated the town of 200 in the southwestern corner of the province. The three boys also went to the same school and counsellors have been brought in to help students cope.
Donations are also being collected at the local credit union to help pay for Dawson's funeral. Town administrator Diane Woodworth said other funds will go to a scholarship in the three boys' names that will send other kids to hockey camp.
The three boys all wanted to go to a hockey camp some day, she said.
Wickham said he started helping coach the Canucks five years ago and Darren Spence was instrumental in getting the team going. At first, they couldn't find enough players, but they recruited some boys and girls from the nearby town of Pierson.
Spence never missed a game and was always driving players to the rink or running the score clock, said Wickham.
He said Gage, who played centre, was the team's leading scorer. His younger brother, Logan, was a left-winger.
"He was just that comic relief in the dressing room, that lovable teammate."
Dawson, a defenceman, was quiet but hardworking.
"We used the term, 'Open the door and let him out.' He did everything for us. He was just that quiet leader at nine years old. It was quite amazing, to tell you the truth."
The team won its game on Saturday and celebrated by attending a WHL Brandon Wheat Kings game and going out for pizza.
On Monday, the day after the crash, the Canucks were scheduled to play a game at home that could have sent them to the provincial playoffs. Wickham said they forfeited.
But they'll be back on the ice for practice Thursday and will be in league playoffs later this month. He said the three boys' team numbers — 6, 23 and 77 — will be pasted on players' helmets in time for the first game back.
Next year, the plan is to have the numbers etched on the green and gold jerseys.
Wickham said a few other teams in the Rocky Minor Hockey Association are also planning to pay tribute to the boys by wearing their numbers.
"Hockey's that way," said Wickham. "We've had lots of support."
— By Chris Purdy in Edmonton