If you reflect on a time of success in a team environment, what comes to mind? Are there certain aspects of the environment that remind you of accomplishment? Maybe a statement made by a teammate or colleague that sparked cohesiveness? What about the long period of setbacks and development? The small improvements over a period of time that resulted in that victory. Was it the people that made the difference? Those who contributed positive energy; those that demanded commitment to the team. Any successful team is built on people and diverse personalities, and must improve over a period of time in order to create those successful, fulfilling moments of triumph.
As we wait patiently for our beloved hockey to resume in Manitoba, we caught up with Chris Prejet, a four-year St. Boniface Riels forward and MMJHL champion, to learn more on his time with the organization, and what stood out in his mind as he reflected on success in the league.
Q: You had a notable MMJHL career between 2011 and 2015; what are some things that come to mind when you think about the Riels organization? Maybe speak on some of those early experiences you had moving into the league.
Chris: “I came from playing highschool out in the country. I graduated and moved to the city for university, and wanted to play in the MMJHL as a result. Things weren’t going to work out with the Twisters but I had a few teams in mind based on where I was living near the university. The Riels manager, Larry (Frykas), was at one of our Twisters preseason games, and a couple days later, I got a call from the Riels asking me to come out to camp. That’s how it all started.”
Q: You didn’t know many guys on the team coming in as the new guy, especially as a rookie in the league. What was that like? Were there certain players that you looked up to in your first year?
Chris: I didn’t know anybody! Brand new team, and new to the city too, so just getting comfortable with that. Wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to make the team. I just showed up and did the best that I could… It definitely took me a while to get comfortable in the dressing room once I made the team. Conty (Aaron Contant) was a big leader there… McGuffin, who was a defenseman… Lofto, our goalie… Justin Harding was another leadership guy. Those were some of the main guys that I looked up too in my first year. Learning to play at that level, it was a lot of fun, and definitely a stepping stone for the rest of my career in the league.
Q: There was a huge jump from your first year (2011), where you guys were well below .500, then moved up to first place at a 37-6-2 record in 2013-14. Did you have a core group of players that were able to stay together over that period, or did a bunch of new players join the team that made a difference?
Chris: “Ya my second year we got a bit better. Lots of new faces. It was that year that we picked up Stan (Stanislav Izevekov – lead team with 27 goals and 51 points in 33 games). Brett Charette started that year… Brian Dies… Brian Michiels… just to name a few. “Mink” (Sean Christensen) started playing defence with our team that year, and ended up winning outstanding defenceman the next season. We didn’t do much in the playoffs, but it was another step towards my third and fourth year, with the championship in that fourth season. Our third year we had a hell of a good team; I think we finished first in the league. That was our first taste of really good quality hockey where we had a chance of winning it all. It got us excited for the year after (2014-15). A lot of the same guys. I remember Schvenny (Mark Sharman) stepped up big time and took on a bigger role in the top six. We had so much skill up front, and even picked up (Nick) Doyle. You knew you had a really good chance of winning; go in with a lot more confidence. If some guys weren’t going one night, you knew there would be others that would step up.
Q: Was it a winning culture? Expectation that every night you would come and win?
Chris: There was a good mixture of confident players, and there were those really competitive guys, and not to say they’re mutually exclusive, just a really good mix of skill and hard work. We just held each other accountable. We needed the whole team there to accomplish what we did. I have to give credit to the coaches and managers because they put that team together; they saw potential with what we had and built on that. They gave us the pieces we needed to succeed, they gave us the systems, and we just had to play like we could. They put in a lot of work there.
“You get that connection when you play hockey with people; you get to know them well. It’s something pretty special that you take away from playing on a team like that”
Q: The first championship for the Riels in 29 years! I think your team did a good job of having those personal relationships. Would you agree that being a close group and spending time together outside of the rink lead to that success?
Chris: I think you could probably say that about most of the years that I was there! Four years, and I got to know a few of the guys really well… It’s important to keep those relationships going. Those are things I got from my career with the Riels that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. The team picked up Brian Michiels in my second year, and since then we’ve been good buddies. I could say that about quite a few of the guys. You get that connection when you play hockey with people; you get to know them well. It’s something pretty special that you take away from playing on a team like that… It was a lot of fun being able to play MM, and it was exactly what I needed and wanted with university in my life.
Q: So you were in university when you were on the team. What were you interested in? What kind of program? What were you working towards?
Chris: I took my degree in Agribusiness. In my last year with the Riels, I took courses towards my Accredited Appraiser of Canada designation (AACI). When I graduated with my degree, I started gaining work experience with AACI courses at the same time, then got my designation in 2018. Been doing appraisal work ever since!
Q: And you were able to manage all of that with hockey at the same time? It’s busy playing hockey, going to school, and even working part-time.
Chris: My last year with the Riels I was working part-time in the fall. Finding extra work on the weekends. I didn’t mind it, it was a good workload for me; I had my school that I was taking care of and I had my hockey, where I could compete and hangout with my buddies. For me, it was the perfect mix.
Q: People don’t have a lot going on outside of school right now, and all that extra time can negatively impact their ability to handle the school workload. Any advice for current Riels players that had their season put on hold and many doing school from home?
Chris: It can be difficult to be home and not see people. I’ve been working from home since March last year so I know how hard it can be. It can be tough mentally, and thankfully something that people are taking more seriously. For myself, it’s been important to stay active and try to keep myself in shape! Pick myself up when I get down. Do what you can to socially distance if you visit your friends, and keep in touch with family and friends!
You’ll come to connect with new people through shared experiences. Use those personal connections to get through difficult times. You needed each other for support and guidance until you found success in the past. Now, we need each other more than ever, and to listen, build positivity, and continue to do our part in keeping our community healthy for as long as we need. Until then, our beloved game shall wait.