Bisons bench boss calling it a career Sirant has been head coach of the U of M men’s hockey team since 1992

Truth be told, Mike Sirant would have preferred to ride off into the sunset with not so much as a word about his retirement.

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Truth be told, Mike Sirant would have preferred to ride off into the sunset with not so much as a word about his retirement.

After more than three decades with the University of Manitoba men’s hockey program, the well-respected Bisons bench boss will not quite get his wish even though the school quietly released news of his eventual departure last month.

Sirant’s retirement goes into effect June 1.

“I don’t mind flying under the radar,” said the 64-year-old Winnipeg native Wednesday afternoon. “It’s something that’s been in the works for a while and I had given the university a heads up — an awareness. And then I had to make the final decision by November of (2022) because… they had to have the time so they could do a very thorough search for a new coach.”

Sirant, a feisty forward for the Bisons during a four-year career in the 1980s, served as an assistant coach for one year and had 27 more seasons behind the bench as U of M’s head coach.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to be in one position, one program for that length of time,” he said. “I’m very grateful to University of Manitoba and Bison Sports for the the opportunity and the support that they provided to me through all these years, first as a student athlete and as an assistant coach and now as head coach.”

Although rumblings of Sirant’s retirement had circulated for several years, veterans such as fourth-year forward and team captain Geordie Keane still felt the shock as the team convened prior to the holiday break for Sirant to deliver the news.

“It was actually very emotional,” said Keane. “You could hear a pin drop in that locker room.”

Another fourth-year forward, Dylan Thiessen, said the news should provide extra motivation for the Bisons during their second-half schedule. The club, currently 7-9-0 and sixth in Canada West, hosts the Regina Cougars on Friday and Saturday at Wayne Fleming Arena.

“Intitially it was such a shock and then it kind of put an extra kick into us that we should really bear down in the second half and give everything we’ve got for Mike and everything he’s put into the team,” said Thiessen.

Sirant, who led the Bisons to 21 playoff appearances, two trips to the national championship and won three conference coach-of-the-year awards since taking the head coaching reins from Wayne Fleming in 1992-93, gets a high approval rating from his players.

“It’s been the best four years of coaching I think I’ve had,” said Thiessen. “He demands a lot. He demands that you play the right way and has great insight into the way the game works. He has such a great history in the game and I’ve had nothing but good times playing for Mike…

“He’s a good coach systems-wise and in the way he approaches the game but he’s also such a personal coach, it shows in the way he is off the ice as well. The way he treats players and the way he takes care of his players and similarly, when he goes out to find new players, he wants to bring in good people and he is a good person himself, too. He really builds a community.”

Sirant’s personal approach also received a glowing evaluation from Keane.

“You can talk about all the hockey stuff, but he really cares about each individual player,” said Keane. “He worries about your school and he worries about your family. He’s a very caring individual and I think goes a long way just knowing that, yeah, the hockey stuff is important, but also the relationships that he builds with his players is is something that I’ll definitely remember.”

Sirant plans to take a break from hockey beginning this summer but wouldn’t rule out a return to the game in some capacity at a later date.

“My biggest satisfaction coaching here is seeing our student athletes graduate and be successful in their careers and be positive contributors to our community and knowing the Bisons hockey program provided the life experiences and reinforced the right values for them to be successful,” added Sirant.

He was emotional when he reflected on the end of an era.

“It’s mixed emotions when you’ve given most of your life to a program,” said Sirant, who took professional development leaves in 1999-2000 (to coach in Austria) and 2006-09 (to coach and manage the Danish national team). “I feel a lot of sadness. We’ve got a lot of really great people here I’m really going to miss.”

U of M director of athletics and recreation Gene Muller said Sirant’s position will be posted in the next month with the hope of announcing a successful applicant by April.

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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