By Robert Murray – Fort McMurray Today
Canadians will go a long way for a fresh sheet of ice and the chance to play a little puck, but few of them have likely ever gone as far as Bruno Ficur.
The first time Fort McMurray Oil Barons head coach Tom Keca met Ficur, the McMurrayite had helped arrange travels through Alberta for a pair of hockey-minded youth groups from Europe. A standout then, Keca left the door open for Ficur to return when he was older if he wanted to experience the game at faster pace.
After travelling over 7,000 kilometers, Ficur reunited with Keca this week as the 1998-born forward seriously considers his hockey future.
“It would be like any Canadian soccer player going over there and trying to play soccer,” Keca said summing it up. “You play here at a certain level, but it’s just a different world.”
Ficur wasn’t front and centre on television screens this holiday, but the forward still took part in the World Junior Hockey Championships in mid-Decmeber, collecting a pair of assists as Croatia finished sixth out of six teams in the Division II Group A Championship in Estonia.
“The conditions here are much greater than in Croatia,” said Ficur. “I’m just enjoying my time here.
“Day after day, I’m getting better with the guys. I’m getting used to it. I’m really happy to be here.”
The reunion was no coincidence. Keca’s connections to the European nation and 26th ranked country in the hockey world — 14th in soccer, if we’re comparing — still run strong more than 20 years after a professional stint in the country.
“The education that I got was nothing that I could ever get from a book or in a classroom,” noted Keca of his professional time. “It was living it. For him, that’s a decision that’s he’s going to have to make as well.”
He added Ficur had aspirations of playing for a year in Canada before attempting to join a post-secondary program south of the border.
The intensity of practice and the mandatory Tuesday yoga sessions took the forward by surprise, but it’s an experience he’s happy to drink in. Though he’s a point per game player with KHL Mladost Zagreb, a team in the Croatian Ice Hockey League that features players almost double his age, getting up to speed in the North American version of the game was an encouraging process.
“It’s a little bit tougher than in Europe,” Ficur added. “It’s more physical. I’m here to see how it works.
“Maybe I go to the college next year. That’s my dream.”
For the brief stay, which will include a trip to the West Edmonton Mall at the request of some of Ficur’s friends back home, the Barons have been accommodating.
“It’s cool to learn how different our lives are,” said defenceman Taner Miller, who has provided Ficur with drives home after practice. “He’s said it’s a lot faster than he’s used to, but I think he’s done really good.
“He’s the same as all of us on the ice, it’s just off the ice you can tell the differences.”
MOB host Kodiaks, Pontiacs
Ficur’s stay will the team will carry through this weekend as the MOB host the Camrose Kodiaks and Bonnyville Pontiacs Saturday and Sunday respectively.
Two wins to end 2016 put the Barons on a good path to being back in the hunt for the North Division lead, but they won’t matter much unless the MOB strike against two of the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s best teams.
An offensively dangerous team like the Kodiaks will be trying to avoid the season series sweep while also fighting a positioning battle of their own in the South Division. With the Pontiacs, the MOB will try to score their first win on home ice against Bonnyville since Feb. 4, 2015, a streak of five straight losses.
“For whatever reason there’s just certain teams that you just don’t match up well against,” continued Keca. “They’re a team that outworks you if nothing else. They’re a team you can hit once, twice three times and they still keep coming at you.
“That relentlessness is a characteristic that we’d like to see a little bit more of in our team.”