The Bison men’s hockey team is kicking off season preparations in Europe later this month.
Manitoba will be headed to Scotland and Northern Ireland to play a series of preseason games against European pro teams. This is the third time the Bison hockey program has gone to Europe for a tour.
The tour will run from Aug. 26-31. The Bisons will play a pair of games against the Belfast Giants on Aug. 26 and 27. On Aug. 29, they will play the Edinburgh Capitals and the tour will wrap up Aug. 31 with a match against the Braehead Clan.
“We try to do this every four to five years so that when players play for the Bisons they get this exceptional opportunity once during their playing career with the Bisons,” said Bisons head coach Mike Sirant.
For third year forward Brett Stovin, it will be his first trip to Europe. Despite having never crossed the Atlantic before, Stovin is focused on hockey, as he has aspirations of playing in Europe ne day.
“I’m focused on hockey already,” he said. “I want to play over there in the next couple years and I want to be in the lineup and I want to play well. I am excited to see the different culture, though.”
Stovin has already experienced the North American professional side of the sport during a stint in the ECHL with the Missouri Mavericks.
“I’ve seen the North American side of it during my time in Missouri,” he said. “It’s a completely different game when you go overseas. I’m excited to see what the game is like over there and hopefully I get the chance to talk to some people over there and get to know the game.”
Stovin has not seen a lot of European hockey games but he says there are differences from the North American game.
“I think the biggest difference for me when I watch is the skill level with the puck and the puck movement,” he said. “In Europe, it’s more of a laid back skating style where you move the puck using your hockey smarts and your skill level a lot more.
“I find Europeans are actually more skilled than North Americans.”
The level of competition in Europe will be a good test for this Bison team heading into the season.
“We’re going to receive some excellent competition from the teams in the Elite Ice Hockey League” Sirant said . “That will provide us with great team development in preparation for Canada West regular season.”
The trip will not only be focused on hockey: Sirant says it’s important the team gets a cultural experience as well.
“We’ll plan sightseeing opportunities so the guys get to really experience the country that we’re visiting, in addition to having time on their own to explore,” he said.
As soon as the Bisons get back from the trip, they will dive right into their regular preseason, with multiple games scheduled against Canada West competition.
The Bisons are hoping to be one of the top dogs in the very competitive Canada West conference this season. Stovin said the confidence is high in the Bison locker room.
“To be completely honest, I see us being a force to be reckoned with,” he said. “Expectations for our team, throughout the dressing room, are we’re going to win, and that we’re going to contend for the championship this year.”