By: Lanny Stewart
The list of players who have graduated from the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and have committed to the University of Manitoba Bisons men’s hockey program over the years is long and wide-ranging.
Just ask U of M men’s hockey coach Mike Sirant.
“I’d say 60 per cent of our roster is comprised of graduates from the MJHL,” he said.
That number, he says, is even higher when you include players who started their junior careers in the MJHL, then went on to the Western Hockey League and were later recruited by the Bisons following their graduating year.
“There have been so many players who have come to play with the Bisons who have had some connection with the MJHL and have accomplished a lot in their careers – and not just in hockey but also in academics. We’ve had so many doctors, lawyers, policemen, teachers and businessmen who have come through our program from the MJHL who have gone on and have become outstanding contributors to our society.”
Recent notable U of M players include Winnipeg’s Blair Macaulay, a former member of the Winnipeg Saints, who was a U Sports all-Canadian and Canada West MVP from 2011-2013; Jordan DePape (also from Winnipeg), who is another former Saint who represented Canada at the FISU Winter Universiade in Spain back in 2015; as well as Stony Mountain’s Brett Stovin, a former member of the Winnipeg Blues, who made the Canada West rookie team during the 2015-2016 season. In fact, 9 players out of the top 12-point leaders on the Bisons from the 2017/18 season have played in the MJHL.
Several MJHL’ers who have donned Bison uniforms have also gone on to play professional hockey, such as the East Coast Hockey League and American Hockey League. Sirant said Europe is a very attractive option for players as well.
Among the list of Bisons who have gone on to pro careers include Brandon’s Josh Elmes, who spent time with the OCN Blizzard during his junior career, and has had stints in the Southern Professional Hockey League and is currently in the ECHL; as well as former Portage Terrier Shaq Merasty (from Thompson) who eventually landed in the ECHL; and recent U of M graduates and Winnipeg products Channing Bresciani (formerly of the Winnipeg Blues) and Justin Augert (Steinbach Pistons) who have both received offers to play overseas for the upcoming season.
Sirant credited the work of those inside the MJHL offices for helping promote the players as best as possible. He said the correspondence the league issues to prospective scouts and coaches is top notch, adding that the annual Showcase, an event intended to allow for more exposure to its players, allows coaches like himself the opportunity to check out the current crop of talent available in the MJHL.
Sirant was also quick to point out the coaching at the MJHL level – and that the players U of M recruits from the league are coming to the program with a strong hockey background and a good understanding of the game, which makes the transition to the U Sports level that much easier.
“The Canada West Conference is a very high level of hockey. It’s fast, it’s physical. We have highly-skilled players, so to be successful in this league, you need players who are getting a strong foundation through excellent coaching and competition at the junior level,” he said.
Kevin Saurette, director of operations for the MJHL, says it’s very rewarding to see so many graduating MJHL players move on to play in the U of M program.
“Mike Sirant does a great job with the Bison men’s hockey program and any dedicated player that plays there will come out a better player and person,” said Saurette, who is also a former Bisons player. “The program provides huge benefits for motivated MJHL players who are looking to play-high level U Sports hockey while furthering their education.”
This year’s crop of U of M recruits will include Keaton Jameson, who spent the past three seasons with the Swan Valley Stampeders. He said a big part of why he joined U of M was because of their stellar recruiting process.
“They can come out to our games and watch us all the time. I think it’s good that you can have the coach come out and watch you play a number of games throughout the year and he can kind of get an understanding of what kind of player you are and can make that connection relatively early in the process,” Jameson said.
The 20-year-old Brandon product said he began talking to Sirant and the Bisons midway through last season and it was evident shortly thereafter where he wanted to go to continue his hockey career.
“For myself and my family, it was nice to stay close to home and it made sense financially,” he said. “It gives me the opportunity to further my education and to continue to play hockey at a high level. They’ve had a successful team over the years and I think they’ll continue to improve this season.”
Jameson will join Jeremey Leipsic and Mackenzie Dwyer of the Portage Terriers, Devon Skoleski of the Winnipeg Blues and Mitch Dyck of the Winkler Flyers on the Bisons next season. Jameson joined several Bisons for weekly on-ice sessions last week and is excited for the upcoming season.
“I think it’s going to be a good change of pace for me. I’m looking forward to it,” he added.
Bisons training camp will take place early this year (begins Aug. 13) because the team will be heading to Europe Aug. 19 to play exhibition games against professional teams in the British Elite League. The Bisons will return on Aug. 29 and will play in exhibition games mid-September before getting their regular season underway late September.