ST. PAUL - In a season filled with uncertainty, St. Paul's Bradley Mistol has managed to continue to pursue his goals on the ice, and has even added his name to the Bonnyville Jr. A Pontiacs' roster.
In St. Paul, the 6'5" tall, 17-year-old goalie was a regular sight at the Clancy Richard Arena as he hit the ice for the Jr. B Canadiens' squad. But in late 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to the hockey season. The Canadiens have not played since late November after strict guidelines were put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Then, on Feb. 25, Mistol received a phone call from St. Paul Canadiens' general manager Dean Smyl.
"Dean just told me straight up, 'The Pontiacs want you for the next three months.' At that point, my heart started to race because it was not something that I was expecting at all on a normal Thursday night," says Mistol.
Within the next hour, Mistol would connect with Pontiacs head coach Rick Swan and assistant coach TJ Millar.
"By the next morning, I had a billet family set up for me, my schooling was all set up for online learning, and everything else was set for me to make a smooth transition to Bonnyville," says Mistol. "Everything happened so fast. I got the call Thursday night and I was moved in on Sunday the 28th for the next three months."
When asked if the move has affected how he is connected with the St. Paul club, Mistol says the coaches and management from the Canadiens have only been supportive of the move.
"They have all been keeping in touch with me, once or twice a week, to check up on me and see how things are going."
Mistol's original intentions were actually to attend the Pontiacs' main camp and tryouts for the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) team this past fall. But, those plans were sidelined by an injury. Instead, Mistol stayed in St. Paul, worked on healing, and found his way back to the Canadiens for the start of what would be a very short season.
"For me, my goal has always been to play the highest level of hockey I can. Playing Jr. A and getting to that level from Jr. B was my goal this past year," says Mistol. "So, I am very happy that I was given this amazing opportunity to be a part of this interesting COVID AJHL season with the Bonnyville Pontiacs."
And just like all athletes competing through the 2020/21 season, Mistol concedes that it's been a challenging season, for many reasons.
"This season has been very challenging to not only me, but almost everyone in the country that plays hockey or in any other sport that is shut down," he says.
Mistol believes "it’s a privilege to have the opportunity to play this season when there are thousands of kids across the nation that missed out on a whole season of development, which is very unfortunate." So, he is taking it day-by-day, and appreciating every day he gets to spend on the ice with his new team, "playing the game I love, because it all could get shut down again in a blink of an eye."
Mistol is one of three goalies on the Pontiacs' most current roster, and is the youngest of the goalies. Speaking specifically to what drew him to the position of goalie, Mistol says he always liked being the guy to stop a goal from happening, rather than the guy scoring the goals.
"I love making saves and being the most important guy on the ice, because without a goalie it’d be hard to win games. With all that said though, it is definitely stressful." Goalies have to aim to be perfect for the full 60 minutes of the game, he adds.
Despite learning from a distance and living in Bonnyville, Mistol continues to be a St. Paul Regional High School student, working through his last year of high school in a pandemic, while playing in the AJHL.
Mistol isn't new to striking a balance between school and athletics, having played AAA hockey in the city for three years, prior to joining the Jr. B Canadiens.
"The first two years, I actually travelled back and forth five to six days a week and had to do homework on the road," says Mistol. Luckily, those first two years he was still in junior high school. In Grade 10, he moved in with a billet family and went to school in the city during the hockey season, and transferred back to St. Paul when the season was done.
"With being at the rink for seven hours a day, it’s definitely a full workload with school," says Mistol.
But, for the young hockey player, it's worth it.
"I’ve always dreamed about playing in the NHL, just like anyone else that has played the game. I think that dream will die when I stop believing in it. For now though, I’m just going to push myself to play the highest level of hockey I can, and get myself to where I want to be."