Bear seizing opportunities
If his hockey career doesn’t pan out, Kirk Bear could always turn to television.
The Red Deer Rebels rookie defenceman was involved in a reality TV show — Hit the Ice — filmed in Ottawa in July, a youth series that features the best young aboriginal hockey player from across the country participating in physical training, on-ice drills and team-building activities.
“You practise with NHL players and the producers try to out you through the reality of what it’s like to be an NHL player,” said Bear. “You skate and work out twice a day, things like that. They put you through the whole works and they even make cuts.”
The cast was split into teams and Bear, as captain, led his squad to two wins. Watching from the stands was Gatineau Olympiques assistant coach Eric Landry, who expressed his fondness for Bear’s potential to Olympiques GM/head coach Benoit Giroux.
Giroux, an assistant to 2013-14 Canadian national junior team bench boss Brent Sutter, relayed Landry’s sentiments to the Rebels GM/head coach, who had already placed Bear on the club’s 50-man protected list at the recommendation of Red Deer director of scouting/player development Randy Peterson.
“Benoit called and said we have a player who could be developed into a solid major junior defenceman,” said Sutter. “It was encouraging to hear that because I hadn’t seen him play. Randy and Shaun (Rebels senior scout) had seen him and I got reports from other people who had seen him.”
Bear, who suited up with the midget AAA Notre Dame Argos the past two seasons and last winter was the team captain, was promised a top-four spot with the Melville Millionaires of the SJHL for this season and was also selected by the Omaha Lancers in the USHL draft in May.
“The Calgary Hitmen were also in contact with me, but Brent said that if I wanted to have a good shot at playing in the league and with a good organization, to come here, and that’s what I decided to do,” said Bear.
By playing with either Melville or Omaha, Bear would have kept his NCAA scholarship eligibility.
“I was good in school, but it was always a dream of mine to play on a Western Hockey League team and now the dream is coming true,” he said. “Now it’s up to me to continue to improve and make the jump to the next level.”
The 18-year-old product of Whitewood, Sask., comes from an athletic family.
“My parents (Tim and Cindy) both played hockey and I have an uncle who’s going to be a pro golfer,” said Bear. “Another uncle, Robin Big Snake, played in the WHL and played pro hockey. I’ve always looked up to him and he’s shown me the ropes. Now that I’m here, he’s my supporter.”
At six-foot-three and 197 pounds, Bear has the size to play an effective physical style.
“I like to get down and gritty in the corners and I’ll take the necessary steps to carry the puck up ice and make a play,” he said.
For now, Sutter is looking for Bear to provide a physical presence while playing within himself.
“He has to play physical, that’s what his role is here,” said Sutter. “He’s come in here with lots to learn, but each day he’s like a sponge — just taking it all in and putting it to use. Each day he’s getting better and better.”
Sutter realized from Day One that Bear would be a project, but he also saw a lot of raw talent.
“We knew that it would be a process with him, but with his size, skating ability and feistiness . . . we just knew there was a lot to work with from the start,” he said. “It’s a big learning curve for him, but he’s handling it really well. Again, it’s one day at a time, but he’s thrown himself into it and he’s been effective.”
Bear, who in seven games has been held pointless, is a plus-one in the plus-minus category and has served four minutes in penalties, is convinced that he’s in the right place at this point in his life.
“This is a great organization,” he said. “People always talk about how hard Brent Sutter is, but I feel the chance to play under his wing is a great opportunity. He’s teaching me things I’ve never learned before. This is a great place to be.”