Timing is everything in hockey, from making a glove save to blasting home a one-timer on a power play. But for Foothills CFR Chemicals Bisons centre Boaz Bassen, timing is the reason he’s still here.
The Bisons build their team by drawing players from around the Calgary area –everywhere from Okotoks to Drumheller, Airdrie to Nanton – but not typically from Illinois.
Bassen was born and raised in Pekin, Ill., about a three-hour drive southwest from Chicago. After jumping through a couple of hoops and filling out extensive government documents, Bassen currently lives with his aunt and uncle in Strathmore.
“We don’t take or recruit imported players. There are laws laid out by Hockey Canada from doing so,” said Bisons general manager Wayne Hansen. “Give huge credit to Bo, he put a lot of work in the summer to make this team off the ice and we are happy to have him.”
Luckily for Bassen, he had family connections in the area. His father, Mark, grew up in Calgary.
“The first step for Bo was for us to take legal guardianship of him,” said Mark’s brother Brian. “We went through the courts in Strathmore and we were granted one year of guardianship. But that still wasn’t enough for Hockey Alberta.”
Bassen drove up from Pekin early last June with his parents and three younger siblings.
Arrived and unpacked, Bassen still needed Hockey Alberta’s approval if he was to step foot on the ice with the Bisons. He needed Canadian citizenship.
With a Canadian father and American mother, applying for citizenship was going to be easier than if he had two American parents.
Immediately applying, Bassen now had to play the waiting game.
In the meantime, he began working out with some of the returning Bison players off the ice.
“Kaden (Hanas) was the first to reach out to me. I’m not sure how he knew I was here, but we started hanging out immediately. He really helped me out, encouraged me to make the team and drove me around,” said Bassen.
Working out with Bisons strength and conditioning coach Steve Stovka, Bassen was still waiting into August, when his siblings were starting school back home.
“I was definitely worried about not getting my citizenship. I thought I would probably have to go home at some point,” said Bassen, who likes to cook spaghetti with his mom and play drums in his dad’s band at church.
Then, with about three weeks until the Bisons camp broke, Bassen received his government documents to the approval of Hockey Alberta.
But there was still the issue of making the team.
“He was a complete surprise for us. We didn’t know anything about him. I heard he had been working out with a few of the guys, but that was about it,” said Bisons head coach Sandy Henry.
There were basically three options for Bassen: make the Bisons, go try out for the Calgary Royals and live with his other uncle in Calgary, or head back home.
Luckily everything came together at the right time, and now Bassen is playing a key role in the middle of the ice for the Bisons.
“I really wanted to come here and play for the Bisons,” he said. “I’ve heard so much about the program. I heard how well the school works with the team and I really wanted to play in the Mac’s tournament.”
Hockey is in Bassen’s blood. His father played for the Calgary Flames in the Mac’s AAA Midget Hockey Tournament as a kid, before going on to play in the AHL for the Peoria Rivermen and Hershey Bears in the early 1990s, and for five different teams in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga from 1994-2000.
His grandfather Hank Bassen played in the NHL from 1954-68. His cousin Chad Bassen played for the UFA Bisons in the 1999-2000 season and scored 37 points.
The Bisons just wrapped up their Mac’s tournament experience with a strong run into the semifinals. Bassen scored the game winner on the power play and chipped in with an assist, when he was named player of the game Dec. 27 in the Herd’s 4-1 clipping of the Alaska Oilers at the Max Bell Centre #1. He would go on to add another goal, finishing with three points.
“It was a great experience to play in front of that many fans. These teams are a lot more skilled and physical from the teams that I am used to playing,” said Bassen, who was a member of the 16U Peoria Junior Rivermen in the Central States Developmental Hockey League last season.
This year, he has registered five goals and six assists in 23 games, as Henry continues to use him in a variety of roles.
“He is responsible; he plays on the high side of the puck. He is a defensive centre with great offensive potential,” said Henry. “He’s a really likable guy who’s easy to be around.”
Living in a different country has had its challenges for Bassen. He missed American Thanksgiving and Christmas with his parents. Not to mention his Chicago Cubs winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years.
“I try to call home at least every second day,” said Bassen. “It was weird at first when I got here, but it was nice to have family to help with the transition and the team treats me just like anyone else in the locker room.”
With a break in the schedule from the end of the Mac’s until the team resumed action Jan. 6, Bassen was able to sneak home for four days. It was the first time he saw his parents and siblings since September. Enjoying his time at home, he also took in Team USA edging Team Canada in a shootout during the World Junior Hockey Championship.
Playing in his last year of midget hockey, the future presents another great question for Bassen: where to next? Whether it’s playing junior hockey somewhere in Canada or playing for a scholarship back home, he will be no stranger to adjusting in his new surroundings once again.