With under three weeks to go until the puck drops on 2020-21 in the MJHL, the end to last season may seem like a distant memory to most who have endured the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, including Ben Hilhorst who hopes to put last season behind him.
After spending his first two years in Neepawa, Hilhorst was traded early in his 19-year-old season to OCN where he capped off his first year in the north as Captain of the Blizzard.
“Towards the end of the year once we were eliminated from the race we were a bit discouraged,” Hilhorst said of the Blizzard in 2019-20. “We agreed that coming into next season, things had to change a lot.”
“At the start of summer there wasn’t a whole lot to do, lately I’ve just been trying to do as much as I can, trying to get prepared for the season as best as possible.”
Getting prepared for the upcoming season included recovering from ventral hernia surgery that was taken care of earlier this summer before the 6-foot-1, 195-pound defender could hit the ice for full contact.
Feeling healthy as he approaches his final season in the league, Hilhorst is ready to help lead the newest members of the OCN Blizzard.
“I’m very excited for this season, with it being my last year, I’m excited to be in the role of showing the ropes to the younger guys coming in. I’m going to try to take it all in and hopefully make a playoff run to finish it all off.”
“With the role I was given, I want to do as much as I can to guide the team in the right direction from the start of the season. Building our identity and turning the culture around is important. I’m trying to have a good year for myself as well to try and further my hockey career.”
Finishing 16-39-5-0 last season, the Blizzard missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year which triggered a change at the helm of the club. In mid-July, OCN announced the hiring of veteran MJHL coach, Billy Keane which Hilhorst says will be a welcomed addition.
“Coming off last year, a fresh start will be good for the team. Bringing some experience in with Billy behind the bench will be a positive shift for the team for sure. I think it will be great for us having him running the show. He’s had success coaching at numerous levels and I think it will be a big part of us molding our team and finding our identity.”
“Getting into the grind and being around with the guys is great. Going through it all with the team, I’m looking forward to doing it one more time,” Hilhorst concluded.