Blast from the Past – Mitch Grant

Born: 3rd July 1975 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Career Stats: http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=114076

It was the summer of 1998. The Bison had pulled out of the Superleague due to the massive losses and were about to embark on their first season in the British National League. Peter Woods was replaced by former Milton Keynes coach Don Depoe who was given the job of putting together a team to take on the BNL. Many Bison favourites of old played that season; Rick Strachan was the only import from the Superleague to return, Chris Crombie exploded onto the scene but also to sign was a smiling, likeable young man fresh out of university in Canada.

That man was Mitch Grant. He fast became a fan favourite for the way he was on and off the ice. His never say die attitude and natural leadership talents saw him end up as captain of the Bison for a season but sadly injuries also took their toll on his pro hockey career. He wasn’t around for a long time but it was a good time.

Mitch was good enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions.

DISCLAIMER: Some of Mitch’s answers have been slightly edited for grammatical accuracy, spelling and generally to make sense

You’re a Manitoba boy, so I’m guessing that hockey played a big part in your growing up?

It sure was. My dad was a radio broadcaster and a newspaper journalist and he covered the Winnipeg Jets (the former NHL team) I basically grew up around the rink as a result. I starting skating when I was 2 years old and played my first hockey season when I was 5 years old. I was hockey mad from that day forward.

What led you down the route to playing college hockey in your home town for University of Manitoba Bison rather than trying your luck in major junior or college in the US?

There were several reasons. I was pretty realistic about my hockey abilities and thought hard about what opportunities could come from playing if I worked hard at it. I wasn’t a big guy and even though dreaming of the NHL was something that I did often. I knew that education should be the priority because I wasn’t going to be good enough for the NHL. I was familiar with hockey in Europe and this was something that I wanted to strive for. At the same time I needed to work on a backup plan so that when hockey was finished, I’d be prepared to move into the work force. We had a very good program at the University of Manitoba. Players like Rick Strachan, Ryan Campbell, Dwayne Newman, Todd Dutiaume, Doug Sinclair, Mike Bettens and Peter Woods all were alumni from that program. I had some options from other Universities and Colleges in Canada and in the United States. Mike Sirant was the coach at U of M and we met several times during my last year of junior. He guaranteed me a spot in the starting lineup as a freshman and also said that I would get a lot of ice time. I also knew that they had lots of connections in Europe, especially in the U.K. and if I played good hockey at the U of M, this could open some doors for me to play overseas. It really wasn’t a difficult decision that the U of M was going to be a good fit for me.

A look at your stats from you UM days speaks of 3 really productive seasons in a UM jersey. Are there any moments in those 3 years that really stand out?

There are several. To this day some of my closest friends played on that team with me. I met them playing at the U of M and we still get together often. We had some great trips. One that stands out was our tour of the U.K. back in 1996. We came over and played a few different teams form the premier league. What an opportunity that was for us. 21 college kids travelling to Europe for 2 weeks to play hockey. FUN!

Your coach in Winnipeg was Mike Sirant who is a legend at UM and a highly regarded coach in college hockey and around the world; what was it like to be part of his setup?

Mike ran a very professional program. He was very organized and always prepared. Mike was passionate about hockey and passionate about the program. He made sure that the players had the best of everything and that playing for the U of M was like playing for a pro club. Mike wore his heart on his sleeve and as a player, I really appreciate him for that.

Care to hazard a guess where you rank all time in the list of UM Bison scorers?

No Idea but I wouldn’t think very high. I only played 3 seasons before heading to the U.K. (Editor’s note; according to the University of Manitoba site, 55th all time)

So after 3 years of CIS hockey what prompted your decision to sign in Basingstoke for 1998/99?

Peter Woods. He was my coach when I was 15 years old and I had a tremendous amount of respect for him. When I was looking to come over I gave him a call. He had Don Depoe call me and the rest was history.

Coach for that season in Bison land was former UM coach Don Depoe, what kind of man was he to play for?

Don was a players coach, meaning Don was all about looking after the players. I loved playing for him.

Your first season in Basingstoke saw the team lose in the final of the cup and finish 2nd in the league. As it was the team’s first season in the BNL was the feeling that the team had laid a foundation to build on or more a sense of frustration for coming so close and not winning?

We surprised a lot of people that season with our success. That team was formed late, most of the other clubs had their guys signed much earlier. Don and Strach deserve a lot of credit for that success. We came together as a team quickly and had a really good group of guys. Everyone from Don as the coach to the training staff were good people, that was a really enjoyable season. Whenever you lose your last game it makes you hungrier to get better.

What do you remember of the infamous playoff semi final against Slough?

I remember the atmosphere in Hull. It was incredible. That was a great weekend for the players and the supporters…we should have won 🙂

You returned for a 2nd season with a new coach in Rick Strachan and you took over the captaincy from him. How was that for a 2nd year pro being put into a leadership position?

I was honoured, very honoured. I really wish I could have stayed healthy that season, I can’t tell you how tough that was for me to have the season that I did. I felt like I let a lot of people down and I couldn’t do a darn thing about it. I’d never suffered injuries like that ever before and it was so frustrating, a helpless feeling.

The team secured some silverware in the form of the B&H plate but you were injured for the final against Slough. It seems a fatuous question but how was that for you?

I was pumped for the team. So many guys stepped up and we really deserved the Plate. Mike Ellis was awesome and even though I wasn’t on the ice with them I was definitely their biggest supporter! Sitting watching that game nearly killed me, I wanted so badly to be on that ice with them contributing.

Injury really cut short your 99/00 season, at what point did you realise that you were done?

2 bad injuries that year. I knew I was done the second (Michael) Tasker and I collided with each other. I felt my shoulder pop out and my hand went numb. When we went to the change room after the period and I took off my pads, I could tell from the look on my teammates faces that it wasn’t good. I had a full shoulder separation.

For 2000/01 you moved from Hampshire to Berkshire and signed for Slough Jets and had a career year (29 goals + 22 assists = 51 points). What prompted the move and how do you look back on that season?

That season was bitter-sweet. I’ll be honest, I was really disappointed when Basingstoke didn’t re sign me. I wasn’t surprised, I wouldn’t have signed me either after that injury season. I had met some great people in Basingstoke, players and supporters. It didn’t feel right playing my first game against the Bison… to be honest it was a little emotional when the Bison announcer called my name and the Bison supporters gave me a good cheer. I really appreciated that. The year in Slough was good. My goal that season was to get back to form. I worked really hard over that summer to get fit and to get my shoulder back to strength. I enjoyed that season and enjoyed my time in Slough. The people there were very good to me.

For 2001/02 you started the season in Slough but then ended it in Guildford; without dragging up too many things you don’t want to talk about, what happened that year?

It was a sad day when we found out that the club in Slough was having financial issues. There were a lot of great people who were part of that organisation. Joe Stephen was pure class. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. No one felt worse than he did when they had to make the announcement. That was a really tough thing to have to go through for everyone involved.

After 2002 you seemed to drop off the hockey map somewhat. Care to explain?

It was time. I really enjoyed my time playing over there but I knew I couldn’t play forever. It was time to turn the page. I consider myself a very motivated person and I knew that I wanted to have a successful long term career after hockey. An opportunity came up that summer and I decided it was a good fit with good potential. It wasn’t easy to admit that I was finished with hockey because to this day I think it’s the best sport on earth.

What do you do now?

I’m in Marketing. We own a company here in Winnipeg and work with customers across North America. It’s a good challenge and I really enjoy it. I travel often and get to meet plenty of great people, not much different than my playing days. I still strap on the blades once a week for a game of shinny. A little slower and weaker than I used to be but still enjoy the game just as much!

Any message for the Bison fans?

I loved my time in Basingstoke. It was honour to wear the Bison jersey and an honour to play in front of such great supporters. I have so many great memories from the 2 seasons that I played there and I thank every player, coach and supporter that made up our Bison family. We sure had some great times!!

I plan to get over there for a visit soon!

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