~Written by Jamie Neugebauer (@Neugsie)
As far as the allocation of minutes for the Nipawin Hawks defence corps is concerned in 21-22, expect the Bell to ring often.
Although Liam Bell has only played two games in his junior career, both for the Hawks in last year’s aborted campaign, he figures to be a big part of head coach Doug Johnson’s plans.
“I have a lot of respect for my teammates,” Bell says, “and I think all of us have been doing our best to just get better this off-season.
“I am really looking forward to seeing how we come together as a defence-corps, and I think we have a lot of skill, a lot of hard work, and determination to be one of the best units in the league. I think with our skillsets and guys we have coming back I think it’s a great possibility for us.”
A steady, defence-first type, Bell possesses all the mobility and physicality needed to thrive and be one of the premium shutdown defenders in the league this year, even at his young age of 18.
An early 2003-birth year, he joined the Hawks out of a talented Saskatoon Blazers U18 program that included the likes of 2021 National Hockey League first-round pick Nolan Allan (Chicago Blackhawks), and the University of Wisconsin commit Boston Buckberger – both defenders.
“The Blazers were a great opportunity for me and helped me grow a lot as a player and a person,” Bell says.
“I thought we had a very good team, a bunch of great guys on that team, and I have nothing but good things to say about (them all). I thought everybody on that team brought their role…it was a great place to be, I had a lot of opportunities, and had a lot of fun.”
Coming off a No. 8 seed finish in the 2019-2020 campaign, the 20-21 Hawks looked poised to take a very serious run at a championship with the SJHL careers of great Nipawin servants such as captain Jake Tremblay, Jake Lenchyshyn, Michael Makarenko, and Brodie Girod winding down. Of course, Covid ruined all that, but Bell and his fellow young Hawks came away with a large store of experience and information from those great veterans.
“We had a lot of great leaders on the team, they brought a lot of accountability to us,” Bell says.
“They wanted the best out of everybody and with Doug on their side, they held all us young guys on a tight ship. It was fun to see. We felt we were playing well to start the year, so it was sad to see that we couldn’t play out the rest of the season and see how good we were going to become.”
Although nothing is for sure when it comes to who might be returning, Nipawin could bring back an impressive haul of returnees to the blue line. Along with Bell, SJHL veterans Evan Bortis, Mkyllan Couture, Cole Beamin, and Kersey Reich could all come back to continue the great tradition of deep, solid Hawks’ D-corps’.
After playing for a team like the Blazers, and after having a year around the Nipawin community, that expectation to win, and the lack of a stomach to settle for anything less, is nothing new to Bell.
“I think for me it comes down to the fact that every place I’ve played has been nothing but supportive with a great community,” Bell says.
“I have nothing but love for the people of Nipawin! In tough situations, it just comes down to doing your job and doing it for you, because you love it. I think there is a lot of expectation and nerves built up in those moments, but in the end, it’s just about playing hockey to the best of your ability and that’s it.”
Bell noted that after months of practice he is no longer daunted by the quick decision-making needed in the tight confines of Nipawin’s Centennial Arena, and at a well-built 6-foot and 199 pounds, he does not mind the rough stuff either.
While the time spent away from the game with the pandemic proved tough for Bell, as it was for many, the young Saskatoonian still found a way to see silver linings in the grey clouds.
“It all hit me hard and it was hard not to be on the ice with the guys,” he says, “but it was just a new struggle to overcome, and I think it was great that we have a very close team as we do since a lot of guys kept in touch and looked out for each other. So, that was big.”
Bell’s goal is to play NCAA Division I, or USports hockey whenever his SJHL career is finished.