Colby Bear is a tall, rangy and gifted winger with the Pilot Mound Buffaloes Hockey Academy.
The Buffaloes play in a tiny urban district in southwestern Manitoba with less than 700 people, and are part of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL).
The CSSHL is a developmental league for elite-level student athletes that stretches across Canada.
When asked what type of player he tries to be on the ice, the 16 year-old grade 11 student expressed that he likes to pass a little more than shoot the puck.
“I would say I’m more of a play maker so that means I’m usually getting the assist rather than the goal.”
Buffaloes General Manager Rod Collins remembers seeing certain skills while recruiting Colby that made him stand apart from the other kids.
“He’s got special hockey and sense that not everybody has and those are things that are hard to teach. Obviously we can develop him physically and his skating and that type of thing but he had good skills and good hockey sense and that really impressed me.”
Part of playing in Pilot Mound, Man., means going to school like any other high-school teenager at the Pilot Mound Collegiate Institute. Despite specializing in hockey, Bear has to take the same courses as any other high school in the province.
Due to the relative remoteness of the town, some classes are taught over video chat.
Bear hails from Peguis, Manitoba’s largest First Nation with roughly 10,000 members. He is the fourth player from the reserve to commit and play in Pilot Mound.
Being away from home for weeks and months at a time can be hard on a young teenager. Part of playing in the CSSHL means travelling all across western Canada and even into the U.S. to play other hockey academies.
(Bear sitting in class at the Pilot Mound Academie. Submitted photo)
Bear however, leans on traditional teachings taught by his community to help push through hard times.
“It really teaches you to you know keep going because the Sundance, it’s pretty hard to accomplish that. Going four days without food or water it’s pretty accomplishing and it’s pretty important and it teaches you to like stay strong and to keep going and that’s what it really taught me was to keep going and just finish it.”
Home is where he fell in love with the game and where he and his family realized hockey will take him places.
“It was hard on my thinking as a mother you know, he was my first born son. I never imagined that he would be moving away from home or that he was planning to leave home when he was 15, 16 years old,” said Bear’s mother Cheryl Bear.
“But we realized he had a dream and his dream was to go as far as he could in hockey and we knew that staying home at that point, at that age in his life that he needed to move on to reach that dream.”
Eric Bear is Colby’s father who touched on when the idea of Pilot Mound first came about.
“When he was in his second year Triple-A Bantam, he wanted to pursue Pilot Mound Hockey Academy. He read about it, other boys were going there that he knew.”
Rick McConnell is the head coach of the Buffaloes said he believes much more lies ahead for the young playmaker.
“I think he has progressed immensely and he’s going to continue to improve because he’s just got that mindset. He’s driven, he wants to get better so the sky’s the limit for him you never know where it could take him,” said McConnell. “He’s got a very bright future if he wants it.”
Colby has one more year of eligibility left in the CSSHL. His goal is to make it onto a NCAA Division 1 squad and earn a degree while playing hockey. He wants to take the same route to the NCAA as Bryden Sinclair, a Maine commit, who is also from Peguis and played at Pilot Mound.
“That’s kind of what I want to do is go that D-1 route instead of the WHL route. Division one, they focus more on the school part and not so much as the WHL.”