NORTH BATTLEFORD, SK.: A fresh start with a relatively new team is just what Kian Bell needed.
After being unceremoniously left off the Cape Breton Eagles roster out of training camp after having a pretty solid camp in his eyes and coming off an impressive ending to the 2021-2022 season, the Fall River forward took some time to decide where he would lace them up.
“Obviously getting released didn’t feel great,” said Bell from Saskatchewan in a recent interview. “I trained hard all summer and felt that I had a pretty solid camp.
“ I went into camp this year with a lot more confidence in my game compared to last year. By the end of last year, I was getting more minutes, and was playing in every situation. I was excited for the upcoming season and believe I would have been an impactful player in the QMJHL.”
He understood being left off the team with new management coming in and likely wanting a fresh start after a dismal season last year.
When the decision came it wasn’t much of a surprise to his family or close friends where he chose—the Battlefords North Stars of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL).
The team is based out of North Battleford, Sk., where his mom’s side of the family is from, and his uncle Martin Smith still lives.
“He is still really involved in the hockey community there and has connections with the team, so they have been talking to him since I was eligible to play Junior A,” he said. “My mom (Fiona Smith-Bell) is obviously well known in the area for making the first ever women’s Olympic hockey team for Canada when they went to the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
“When it became public that I wasn’t with the Eagles this season, the Stars reached out right away to see if I would be interested in playing there this year.”
The 19-year-old Bell said he had a few really good options to consider, including in the Maritimes, the AJHL and the BCHL.
“It was a really tough decision, but the thought of playing in Battleford with my families history in the community was the deciding point for me,” said Bell.
He is wearing jersey #27 with the Stars as a tribute to his uncle, who also wore that number, and his family. His uncle is the all-time leading scorer for the Battleford franchise.
Bell said the Stars have a strong team with plenty of depth. He is playing on a line with two of the top players in the league—Holden Doell and Jake Southgate.
Battleford hasn’t lost a game in regulation this season, compiling a 20-0-2-1 record (won-loss-overtime loss-shootout loss) record.
Currently, the former Lockview High student has amassed 19 goals and 36 points in just 20 games with the Stars as of Nov. 24 (according to Elite Prospects). He also has 26 penalty minutes and six power play goals.
“As a line, we have been clicking really well lately,” said Bell. “We just complement each other really well.
He said the coaching staff is a big factor in the team’s success too.
“They let me play through my mistakes, and have trust in my game,’ he said. “They have been super supportive, and it has helped my gain confidence in the way I play.”
In the SJHL, Bell said, all 12 teams are competitive with each other, and any team can win on any given night.
“There is a ton of talent throughout the league, and at the same time it’s a more physical league than what I was used to before this season, but it has made me a better player,” said Bell.
The community support for the Stars is great too, with large crowds greeting the teams especially in North Battleford he said.
Bell feels with everything taken into account, his choice to play as a Star is one he isn’t regretting.
“As much as I feel I can be an impact player in Major Junior, this team and this league have been really great experiences so far,” said Bell. “I know I made a good decision to come here in September.”