Friday, 9 June 2017

The New Kids

It's always a big day when the new recruits are named to the squad, and the University of Manitoba Bisons men's hockey team announced four recruits today. Three are Winnipeggers as the local content of the team remains high while one player is American-born, coming from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota to play. Their experience is varied, ranging from the ECHL to the WHL to the AUS, but all will be counted on to help the Bisons program in trying to climb the standings this season. So who are the new kids who will attend the University of Manitoba in 2017-18? Let's find out.

The player coming in with the most hockey experience at the highest level is Michael St. Croix. The Winnipeg-born centerman played four years over five seasons with the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings where he was an impressive scorer. In his five campaigns, St. Croix piled up 128 goals and 192 assists in 280 games, averaging 1.14 points per game. That scoring touch attracted the New York Rangers who drafted St. Croix in the fourth-round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft at 106th overall. The next three seasons saw St. Croix suit up in the ECHL and AHL with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits and Hartford Wolf Pack. While his 13 games in the AHL resulted in no points, his time with Greenville saw him add 43 goals and 86 helpers in 178 games. In other words, St. Croix is a pretty decent scoring threat.

There's more that head coach Mike Sirant liked about St. Croix as well. St. Croix was an assistant captain for the Oil Kings, so he'll bring a leadership element to the Bisons' dressing room. He still holds the Oil King career records in points, goals and assists, and he was named a WHL All-Star twice in his five seasons. He helped the 2011-12 Oil Kings win the Memorial Cup, so he brings a wealth of experience in winning big games with him to the program. And if you're thinking the St. Croix name seems familiar, he is the son of Manitoba Moose Developmental Goaltending Coach Rick St. Croix who has experience working with a number of NHL clubs.

It sounds like the Bisons might have found a future number-one centerman! However, we're not done there.

Zach Franko has decided to return home for this season. The winger was a stand-out with the Winnipeg South Blues of the MJHL before making the jump to the WHL with the Kelowna Rockets. He would spend nearly four years with the Rockets before being traded to the Kootenay Ice late in his WHL career. All told, the speedy winger had 81 goals and 139 assists in 280 WHL games while totaling less than 70 penalty minutes over those games. While he wasn't drafted, Franko grabbed an opportunity to come back to USports when he signed up to be part of the Acadia Axemen in the AUS.

Again, Sirant was on the hunt for some intangibles with Franko's recruitment. His speed and lack of penalty minutes will help the Bisons stay out of the box this season - one of the oft-mentioned issues they had last season. He's shown to be a proven scorer at the USports level, earning 2014-15 USports and 2014-15 AUS All-Rookie Team honours. Scoring, speed, and less time spent in the sin bin are all positives forlast season's sixth-place CWUAA team.

Adding Franko adds another solid scoring threat for the Bisons. We still have two recruits to go.

The Bisons added former Winnipeg Thrashers and Winnipeg Blues defenceman Lucas Skrumeda after a three-year run with the WHL's Everett Silvertips. The undrafted bantam-aged Skrumeda played his way onto the Silvertips after a couple of good WHL camps, and his three years in Washington saw him score six goals and 36 assists while being a responsible defensive player. He was a teammate of current Bison winger Remi Laurencelle, and he spent significant time as the defensive partner of standout Noah Juulsen where Skrumeda made significant improvements in his overall game in being used by former Everett head coach Kevin Constantine as a shutdown defender. He should help stabilize an improving Bisons defence corps.

Two scorers, a solid defenceman, and one recruit to go. What could be missing?

If the Bisons needed a checking forward with a physical edge, they may have a guy that will keep the crowd buzzing this season in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota's Calvin Spencer. The former Chaplin Park High School winger earned the following description from SBNation College Hockey: "Spencer isn't really known as a big scoring threat, but can be a punishing physical player that could potentially thrive in a situation where he is asked to play more of a checking role". His scoring role was evident in five WHL seasons with Seattle, Swift Current, and Vancouver where he scored 32 goals and 34 assists, but amassed 15 WHL fights.

Spencer was a victim of numbers in Swift Current where he was overaged and the Broncos were forced to move him to Vancouver, but Director of Player Personnel Manny Viveiros stated he was a good leader and a great role model to the younger players. He's a character player who will bring a physical edge to his game like his half-brother, Winnipeg Jet Dustin Byfuglien.

There are some interesting names, family ties, and personal achievements in this year's Bisons recruiting class. It's always hard to judge just how much of an impact they'll play in the big picture with every other CWUAA city having a WHL team in town, but the Bisons are clearly looking for key pieces who will bring more to the ice than just what their stats lines state. If anything is certain about these four individuals, though, it's that Mike Sirant went out and got four quality people who will do their best to help the Bisons win. And that's always a boon to any program.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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