Monday, April 23, 2012

Curtis Billsten Feature

Curtis Taylor
Polytechnic Press

SAIT Trojans fans will notice a few new faces on the team this semester.  Wearing number 15 for the team, Curtis Billsten, was sought after by Ken Babey in previous years and the Trojans coach is excited to throw him into the mix.

“He’s a proven player who’s experienced, and he gives us some much needed depth,” said head coach Ken Babey.

Billsten grew up in Saint Albert, just ten minutes northwest of the city of Edmonton. 

He was introduced to hockey at the young age of four, and has been hooked ever since.

In cold Saint Albert winters Billsten was out on the pond, playing hockey every day with his older brother.  When summer came along and the city thawed out, the hockey games shifted from the pond to the street.

“Like every other typical Canadian hockey players, me and my brother played basically every day,” said Billsten. “From that and through my parents I grew a love for the game.”

Fast forward to today, at 25 years old Billsten has already built up quite the resume.

After excelling in junior hockey, Billsten was drafted into the WHL by the Red Deer Rebels. 

Going into his first WHL training camp, Billsten surprised a lot of people including current Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter, who was then the bench boss for the Rebels.

“He was a very physically demanding coach who throws a lot on your shoulders,” he said. “But it was definitely a huge learning step in my career.”

Billsten and the Trojans celebrate a late season victory over the Mount Royal Cougars.   Curtis Taylor Photo
Billsten made the team as a 16 year old, playing alongside current NHL stars Dion Phaneuf and goaltender Cam Ward.

The WHL took it’s toll on Billsten, and after playing half a season he decided to go play Junior A for the Calgary Royals to work on both the physical and mental aspects of his game.

“It’s a grind, you get into that pro hockey style of life and you realize that life changes pretty quick when it becomes a job and somewhat of a career at that age.”

The following summer Billsten got picked up in the expansion draft by the Everett Silvertips, where he would play for another former NHL coach in Kevin Constantine.
Though Billsten enjoyed playing for a class organization in Red Deer, he felt he had an overall better experience playing for the Silvertips.

“Playing for a first year team in a brand new building, the fans were absolutely nuts.  We sold out even the majority of our season games,” he said.

That year Everett made it to the WHL finals, a rare feat for an expansion team.  The people of Everett embraced Billsten and his teammates and they became instant stars in the town just 45 minutes north of Seattle.

“The way (the fans) treated us, hockey was so new and fresh to them they thought of us as their pro team, and the city really built up behind us.”

After his WHL career was over, Billsten attended training camp for the Ottawa Senators.  Though he felt he did well at camp, Billsten wanted more security in his career and decided to accept a hockey scholarship to the University of British Columbia.

Billsten surprised himself with his dominant play in the CIS, and his dream of playing professional hockey had not yet faded.

“I couldn’t see myself getting an arts degree at UBC and throwing my hockey career away at such a young age.”

Billsten left UBC and bounced around playing for professional teams in Victoria, B.C,, Laredo, Texas, and even Germany before deciding to attend SAIT to enroll in the carpentry program and play for the Trojans.

Billsten has made an instant impact for the Trojans with two goals and an assist in his first two games, and his hockey experience provides instant leadership off the ice with this young Trojans squad.

“When a guy like that comes in, if he has something to say you listen to him,” said first year Trojan and Wolseley, Saskatchewan native Nolan Souchotte

“He’s great in the dressing room, and he’s a hard worker.  He brings a lot of experience to the lineup.”

Heading into the second half of the season, the Trojans are looking up at NAIT and Mount Royal in the standings. 

With Garret Watson back from injury, he and Billsten will bring a physical presence to a team in search of their fifth ACAC championship in six seasons.

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