Curtis Ireland calls Steinbach “a good spot for me.” For any player with a dream to play NCAA Division 1 hockey, playing for the Pistons is certainly a good situation.
After all, there are very few people with the U.S. college connections possessed by Pistons head coach Paul Dyck. And in Ireland’s case, Coach Dyck is one supporter upon which he can count.
“Curtis was really solid on the back end for us this year and we felt he made huge strides in his consistency,” said Dyck, when asked about his 20-year-old defender. “As a result, his work load increased. He a very cerebral player who skates very well, makes intelligent decisions with the puck, which in turn makes him rather efficient when it comes to exiting our zone. He has a lot of skill.”
There are dozens of young men playing in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League who one day want to play NCAA Division 1 hockey. It’s an excellent goal to have, but reality suggests it’s not always achievable. There are some very good MJHL players who have had to choose the ACHA, Division 3 or USPORT as an alternative. When it comes to NCAA scouts, many are considered but few are chosen.
As far as Dyck is concerned, however, Ireland is one of those players who has “a legitimate shot” at playing D1 hockey. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder from Brandon, checks a lot of boxes.
Last season, he had three goals and 23 points in 54 games from his position on the point, and played a consistent, steady game – with quick puck-moving skills — that NCAA scouts like from the defenders they recruit.
“His positioning is excellent and he has a good defensive stick,” said Dyck. “We saw him develop into a leader this season. He leads by example and just does the right things day after day. His practice habits lend themselves to growth as a player so I am excited to see where this takes him this coming season.”
Ireland played all of his minor hockey in Brandon and at 14 was selected by the Everett Silvertips in the ninth round (195thoverall) of the Western Hockey League’s annual Bantam Draft.
“I’ve been skating for as long as I can remember,” he said. “My mom was a figure skater and at two or three she got me into skating. At four and five I was playing Timbits and then went right through the Brandon Minor system and played Bantam and Midget with the Triple A Provincial Wheat Kings.
“I went to Everett’s camp for two years, at 15 and 16. In my second year, I went a long way through camp, but the Silvertips were really deep that year and if I stayed there, I wasn’t going to play much. That’s when I started talking to Paul in Steinbach. They drafted me in the MJHL Draft and I liked it there. Three-quarters of the way through Steinbach’s camp, Paul signed me and I’ve been there ever since and it’s been great. My billets were great, school was great. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Brandon and I’m looking forward to next season. We had a great year this year and I think we’ll be just as good or better next year.”
Like every MJHL player still remaining in the playoffs, Ireland was disappointed when Hockey Canada shut down the game across the country in order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pistons had just eliminated the Blues in four straight games and were rested and looking forward to the semi-finals when the season was cut off.
So, these days, Ireland is working in the mill and warehouse of Imperial Seeds (an essential business) and staying at home when the job site shuts down every day. He will admit, however, that he misses the great outdoors.
“I grew up on the family farm on Highway 6 near Ashern and I love to hunt and fish,” he said. “My grandparents operate our 3,000-acre family cattle farm where they have 600-800 head plus some cattle that they keep for other ranchers. We have a cabin and my auntie and uncle have their cabin near the farm at Steep Rock and Hilbre and I miss being up there.”
Fortunately, he’s patient. He was patient enough not to sign with a WHL club — in a situation where he probably wouldn’t play much – and he’s been patient talking to NCAA schools.
“I’ve had some looks and I’ve talked to some schools,” he said. “At the SJHL-MJHL Showcase, I had a conversation with Bemidji State and then Holy Cross reached out. I’ve talked to Bemidji a few times. I’m just going to stay patient and focus on playing the best hockey I can.”
From Dyck’s point of view, it’s the right approach.
“Curtis has a legitimate shot at D1,” said Dyck. “Based on what he accomplished this season, he definitely has the potential to be a D1 player.”
And with a full year left in the MJHL, having the potential to play at a higher level is definitely an advantage.