Bison on the charge
by Andy Potts|15 DEC 2019
photo: Carles Uturbe
Major Junior experience in North America, a push for Oberliga honours with Tilburg and now goals for the Netherlands. Rapidly-rising Dutch forward Bartek Bison has packed plenty into his 21 years.

The youngster, in his second senior international tournament, caught the eye in his country’s opening game of the Olympic Qualifying event in Barcelona. He needed just 46 seconds to open the scoring in a 17-1 victory over Mexico and finished the game with a hat-trick. There were three more points in the next game with a goal and two assists on Chinese Taipei. That North American experience seems to have polished this Amsterdam native into a powerful new talent for the Dutch.

“Playing over there was 100% a big help for me,” Bison admitted. “It was awesome to get drafted into the CHL and have that experience in North America.

“It was like seeing a second side of hockey. In Europe we have the bigger ice, there’s more passing. Over there it’s more stop-start, there’s a lot of chipping the puck and just grinding it out. So you learn both sides of the game.”

After four years in North America, which included a Clark Cup win as part of Fargo Force in the USHL, Bison returned home to play for the Tilburg Trappers. There’s a strong Tilburg accent to the Dutch team in Barcelona. Head coach Bo Subr also works behind the bench with the Trappers, and 10 of his players here also play their club hockey under his guidance.

It’s the culmination of a new vector in Dutch hockey, led by Tilburg’s bold decision to move into Germany’s Oberliga in search of more competitive hockey. That was in 2015; since then, the team has won three titles in four seasons. Now Bison is hoping that the Trappers connection can take the Oranje into the next phase of Olympic qualifying.

“It helps us 100%,” Bison added. “We even practice in Tilburg with the national team, it brings everyone together. And it’s just nice to be on such a good team as Tilburg, surrounded by so many national team players.”

But the Olympic campaign is only a sideshow this season. The real task comes in April when the Dutch travel to Zagreb looking to win promotion back up to Division IB of the World Championship. The Netherlands will take on Australia, China, Israel, Spain and host nation Croatia as it looks for a swift return to what many in Dutch hockey feel is the country’s natural level.

“Promotion is absolutely our biggest goal,” said Bison. “Last year we didn’t do too great. We had some team issues with not having enough players available and whatnot so this tournament we’ve got to get back up to our level.”

Last season’s campaign saw the Netherlands take 11 World Championship rookies to Tallinn and that lack of familiarity hurt the Dutch. A solitary victory over Japan was not enough to escape last place and relegation. This time, helped by the Olympic Qualification campaign, Bison is hoping for a more coherent team in Zagreb.

“We don’t get to play together during the season so it’s nice to have these three games – and hopefully three more if we can qualify – to prepare for April. It’s helps us get to know each other and get a feel for what we’re doing on the ice.”