The (Bison) boys are back in town

The Bison men’s hockey team will be starting their camp earlier than usual this year, due to a little road trip — or more accurately, a Euro-trip — at the end of August. 

“We have a real special opportunity to go on a European tour,” said Bison men’s hockey coach Mike Sirant. 

“We depart Aug. 24 and return Sept. 5, so the players are back in time for the start of classes. I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in international hockey and travel through Europe on a number of occasions. I coached in Austria and also was with the Finland National team. I think we have a special group of people in our program, staff and players. I wanted to provide the same opportunity for our players to receive the experiences I had through playing international hockey and travelling in Europe.” 

Hockey season starts earlier in Europe, leaving professional hockey teams looking for teams to play against in their pre-season. Which, according to Sirant is “why we chose to go at this time of the year,” adding, “It means our training camp starts much earlier. Normally we start after the Labour Day long weekend. This year we’re starting training camp Aug. 19 and leaving Aug. 24.” 

At the end of last season the Bisons lost Steve Christie, Greg Beller, Nolan Waker and Riley Dudar due to graduation. Also not returning to the program this year is Kyle Howarth, who is pursuing professional hockey aspirations in Texas. But The Bisons’ coach doesn’t see these departures as setbacks. “[There’s] an opportunity for other veteran players to step up now and fill those roles. Plus, we also had another very strong recruiting year.”. 

On June 17, the Bison website announced seven key recruits had been added to the team: four forwards, Neal Prokop, Matt Lowry, Jordan Davis and Brendan Rowinski, along with three defensemen, Darren Bestland, Travis Bobbee and Tyler Schmidt. When talking with Sirant, an eighth recruit was also mentioned. 

“The one that was not in the press release was [goaltender] Mark Friesen.” The Winkler native played for the Swift Current Broncos last season. According to Sirant, Friesen was still exploring professional hockey opportunities when the roster was originally announced. Sirant added: “He decided this would be his best opportunity for continuing his hockey development and continuing his education.” 

With up to 24 players chosen to go overseas, there will be several familiar faces making the trip.  

“We have a really strong nucleus of returning players,” said Sirant.  

There were several injuries amongst key veterans last year, including captain Mike Hellyer being on crutches with a broken ankle during the playoffs.

“He’s good to go, and healthy,” Sirant responded when asked about Hellyer’s condition heading into the new season, “It will be good to have Mike back and healthy and ready for his fifth and final year. The players have been working very hard in the off-season.” 

“I think for many last year was a high standard, but not to our expectations, so we’re looking to have a better year this year. We weren’t satisfied [with last season],” Sirant said. 

“We had been to the nationals the previous season, so it was our goal to return there this season, but we lost a tough series to Alberta, so we missed nationals. That made us more determined this year.”