Usually when the Sisler Spartans boys’ hockey team plays an away game, it’s in Sanford, Steinbach or Selkirk, but this week the team finds itself in Tampa, Fla.
As part of the trip, the Spartans will play a few games against Tampa-area teams, as well as catch a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football game and the Tampa Bay Lighting versus Winnipeg Jets game on Dec. 7.
"There’s a gentleman (Dave Beaudin), who’s actually from Winnipeg and now runs a lot of the minor hockey in Tampa, and he’s hooked us up to meet Dave Andreychuck (former Lightning captain) and Chris Dingman (former Lightning player and current colour commentator) and a few of the other Tampa alumni guys," said Spartans coach Chris Ridgedale.
"Hopefully it’s going to be an experience of a lifetime. I think during one of the intermissions they’ll take us up to the press box. We’re going to meet them and hang out with them, that kind of thing."
It’s early in the Winnipeg High School Hockey League season, but judging by its play so far, the Spartans have earned themselves some fun in the sun. The team currently has five wins, three losses and one shootout loss in the Winnipeg Free Press Division.
Ridgedale says the Spartans’ early success can be attributed to its good mix of veteran Grade 12 players and fresh Grade 10 players all buying into his system. He specifically points to players like goalie Kyle Pososki, who has a two goals-against average over six games, and offensive dynamos Devin
Manness and Will Grouette, who are leading the team with 17 and 15 points, respectively.
"They’re absolutely dominating," said Ridgedale of Manness and Grouette. "Devin is a very speedy finesse forward and Will is a, well, a big strong man is basically what he is. When he chooses to be, he’s a beast."
Manness, a left-winger, is the Spartans’ captain. He said he’s not overly vocal in the dressing room and chooses to lead by example.
"I like to get zoned in before the game. I like to do my own thing," Manness said, a Grade 12 student at Sisler. "When younger players look at me in the dressing room when I’m getting zoned in, I think maybe they’re thinking the exact same thing."
Manness said he’s been playing hockey since he was a two-year-old and met Grouette shortly thereafter.
"I’ve been playing with Will since I was three-years-old. We’ve got a lot of chemistry," Manness said.
That on-ice chemistry is matched with much excitement from Sisler Spartans fans in the team’s home rink, Billy Mosienko Arena.
"I don’t know if there’s another school that gets the amount of kids out and is as boisterous as our barn," Ridgedale said.
"The Garden City coach Allen Mironuk said to me after a game he doesn’t want to have to come back to Billy again this year. It’s tough for kids to stay focused in that environment. It’s pretty crazy."