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Kian Bell's hockey season is off to an explosive start.
The 17-year-old forward with Dartmouth's Steele Subaru, in the Nova Scotia Under-18 Hockey League, has 11 goals in as many games and is tied with James Beaton for the league’s scoring lead at 17 points.
The lone hurdle slowing down the star centre is COVID-19. The league is on a 14-day pause as all non-essential travel to and from Halifax Regional Municipality has been restricted.
Bell's scoring exploits are no longer a surprise for Steele coach Steve Crowell and, when play resumes, he expects Bell to carry on.
The veteran bench boss vividly recalls a shift two years ago when Bell was called up as an affiliate player for the Dartmouth team.
“His first game was in Cape Breton and on one of his first shifts he scored a goal,” said Crowell. “He got a puck coming out of our end at full speed, blew around the defenceman and scored."
That was his only goal that season in four games as an affiliate.
But last season Bell had a breakout year with 20 goals and 45 points and was named a second-team league all-star.
Those results caught the attention of the Cape Breton Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. They selected him in the 13th round of the 2019 entry draft.
Attending Eagles’ camp this fall gave the five-foot-nine forward a confidence boost that he carried into his Under-18 season.
“Since last year, and at camp with Cape Breton, I’ve gotten more experience and I felt confident,” said Bell. “I was doing pretty well when I went to Cape Breton. I thought I had a really good camp.”
Bell is quick to share the credit for his early success with linemates Ben Mercer and Ethan Wheeler. Wheeler has 15 points (four goals and 11 assists) and Mercer eight points (three goals and five assists).
“I’ve got some pretty good linemates that I have been working well with,” said Bell. “Ben Mercer played last year, and I have had chemistry with him, and the previous two years in exhibition tournaments I’ve played with Wheeler. We are starting to click.
“We have a little bit of everything. Wheeler is a big guy, tall and very strong, Mercer is a really good playmaker and this year I’ve been able to do both, find the back of the net and have been setting some guys up. We’re not weak anywhere.”
Captain an honour
Crowell rewarded Bell with the captaincy on the team this year and the young forward doesn’t take it for granted.
“It was really an honour,” said Bell. “There are a lot of leaders on this team that don’t have letters.”
“Being a captain means a lot in our organization,” said Crowell. “He’s not a guy for big speeches in the dressing room, but he goes out and does what the coaches are asking him to do and does it to the best of his ability.”
As captain, he knows the importance of a team-first approach and is as proud of the team’s fast start as he is of his own. Steele sits atop the standings with an 8-2-1 record.
“We are learning and starting to put things together and buy into the system. It’s really exciting,” said Bell.
“Last year I think we were fourth, even though we won IceJam, which was pretty cool. This year, everybody on our team has a lot of skill. They are very talented but at the same time, we are hard-working. And when you have two of the best goalies (Carter Richardson and Noah Harvey) in the league that helps out. We don’t really have a weakness.”
Crowell, who has 10 first-year players this season, agreed the team is off to a tremendous start, but added the work isn’t finished yet. He pointed to last weekend’s Showcase where a perfect three-game weekend was spoiled by 40 minutes of undisciplined hockey.
“I think the exciting part for us is we still see that there is lots of room for growth on this team,” said Crowell. “There are times where our age and lack of experience comes back to bite us. We are the point of the season where we are trying to limit those situations and teaching kids to learn how to win and close out wins.”
Started with Olympic mom
Bell only knew one coach in his formative hockey years, his mother Fiona Smith-Bell. It just so happens that his mother was a former Canadian women’s hockey player, with a few world championships and Olympic silver medal on her resume.
As a defenceman, she was on the Canadian team that played in the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the first time women’s hockey was offered. Canada lost 3-1 to the United States in the gold-medal game.
As Bell moved up the hockey ranks he appreciates what it means to have a mother with those playing credentials.
“It’s really unbelievable,” he said. “I didn’t realize how cool it was until I started to mature and realize how rare and how much she put into the game - moving out at 16 and doing all the little things to pursue her dreams.
“She was my coach from Day 1 up until a little bit in bantam. So I’ve had her as a mentor for my whole career.”
Smith-Bell, who along with husband Rob and younger son Jaxon moved to Nova Scotia three years ago, is thrilled to watch Kian’s development with Crowell and the Dartmouth organization.
“It’s exciting to watch, you know the reputation the organization has,” she said. “They have always done a great job of developing the kids and I think that transfers over to the players and they gain confidence every year. That is the key with Kian, he has developed in the last few years.”