A pair of Winnipeg Blues veterans will be suiting up for the University of Manitoba for the upcoming season. Liam Bilton and Brett Brooks have both commited to play for the Bison after their junior careers came to an end this spring.
20 year old Brooks had a career high in goals (23), assists (39), points (62) and penalty minutes (107). Brooks says the competition in the MJHL helped prepare him for the college game.
“When I came back from the WHL I had an opportunity to play against older guys and play more than I did in the WHL. I played against the top lines and in every situation which made me have to focus and develop not only my offensive game, but defensive as well.”
Bilton shared the same sentiments.
“Every year as I moved on in my career I noticed that the level of play and abilities of players improved,” says Bilton. “Not only is this great news for the MJHL, but it kept me working as hard as I could during the season and the off season to stay at the top of my game.”
Having a pair of coaches who have both coached at the University Level behind the bench has also helped prepare the players for the next level. Head Coach Don MacGillivray was head coach of the U of M Bison for three seasons (2006-2009) and assistant coach Billy Keane (199-1999), and (1007-2009) was an assistant coach. With that kind of experience, the players knew they’d be ready for the jump.
“Throughout my three years with the Blues, Don would have regular meetings with me about things I needed to work on to help get me to the next leve”, says Bilton. “I could not be more thankful for all the effort put in by Don, Billy, Dan and Lana.”
Brooks added that no matter if it was a game or practice, the coaches continued to push them so they would be ready for the CIS.
“They have sort of groomed my game into the CIS style of play,” adds Brooks. “They’ve both coached at the CIS leknow the lever of compete and brought that to each practice.”
With the next chapter of their hockey lives beginning in the fall, the two veterans had a chance to reflect on their time in the Blues orgqanization.
“The thing that will always stand out for me during my time with the Blues was the championship and the year we had,” says Brooks. “I’ve never played with a tighter group of guys and we were underdogs in every series. Nobody gave us a chance and we knocked off the top three teams on our way. It’s definitely a lifetime memory for me.”
Bilton, the top scorer of the playoffs during that championship season, says that was a special season.
“Being able to play in front of a packed MTS Iceplex and win a championship in my home city in front of all my friends and family is something that I will never forget. Our team was as close as any team you’ll find and to be able to win a championship together and we will always have those memories with an amazing group of guys to look back on.”
And the future looks bright for both Brooks and Bilton.
Bilton plans on starting his degree in Agribusiness, while Brook’s plans on majoring in criminology and getting an arts degree to one day become a police officer.