Colin Bell expects to play hockey for the Osoyoos Coyotes later this fall. Right now, though, he’s busy fighting wildfires.
The Yotes’ leading scorer last season — he notched 25 goals and 71 points — the 20-year-old Bell is finished with school and now considers himself a working man.
“It’s a really good summer job that keeps me in shape and helps me out financial-wise to be able to play junior hockey,” he explained from a staging area near the Finlay fire between Peachland and Summerland.
“It’s a really good summer gig if you want to be playing hockey in the winter or go to school.”
Bell joined the BC Wildfire Service with former Coyote Ryan Roseboom. The two played together last season and billeted with Kathy Hiebert.
“I encouraged him to come,” Roseboom said. “We lived together last year, so we’re pretty good buddies.”
The two are part of a 20-man wildfire crew that has criss-crossed the province as the worst wildfire season ever to hit BC flared up over the summer months.
“We’re just doing what we can out here,” said Bell. “We’ve definitely had some tough days. There were a couple of days in the Cariboo that were pretty hectic, a lot of running around, saving people’s houses.
“We’re just trying to get a grip on the fire, doing our part to hold it.”
If that modest assessment of performance sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s akin to language players often use defining their contribution to the team — on or off the ice.
“It is like a team atmosphere. You’re with 20 guys, 20 brothers,” Bell says. “It’s like hockey — 20 brothers there and 20 brothers here.”
And he coins another sports maxim.
“It’s been a pretty long season,” he added. “I’m kind of itching to get back to Osoyoos and to play some hockey. I’m missing some of the guys.”
That return likely won’t come until mid-October, Bell said. Right now, the work on the front line fighting wildfires is much more important.
While Bell plans to return to Osoyoos and play hockey, Roseboom has other designs — doing some travel in the off-season and getting an education.
“I’ve done this for about four years now,” he said. “I’m going to keep doing it for a few more years and travel or go to school in the winter.”
Randy Bedard, the Coyotes’ general manager, says he’s not surprised with the two Coyotes’ work ethic. The KIJHL in general — and more specifically the Coyotes organization — works hard to produce solid young men.
“A lot of them will talk about getting a scholarship; they really don’t talk about turning it a career,” Bedard said, explaining the grounding that tends to take place. “The goal for most is to get to a point where they can play hockey and get an education, too.
In Osoyoos, the Coyotes “are in big demand,” he added.
“It’s a small community and the expectation is that you give back to the community that’s giving to you. It gives them a chance to improve their interpersonal skills and communication skills.
“They’re out there and they have to have that interaction. They’re pretty good that way.”
Life on the front lines of BC’s wildfire-fighting effort appears to be providing the young workers with a sense of grit, determination and accomplishment as well.
“Some days out here can be tougher than hockey,” Roseboom said. “They’re long days in the sun, but we are getting the job done.”