Former Tigers standout Bland relishing familiar surroundings with NA3HL’s Bighorns
Growing up in Spokane, Wash., Liam Bland took to hockey at an early age, as a fan and as a player.
His family had season tickets to Spokane Chiefs (WHL) games and Bland got on the ice for the first time when he was just two years old.
As he improved yearly, his travels eventually took him to Colorado Springs where Bland skated for the Colorado Springs Tigers.
This season, he’s enjoying his second year of junior hockey with the NA3HL’s Helena Bighorns, where he currently has 24 goals and 43 points in 30 games.
“The opportunity started to come around last summer after hearing that a lot of the guys I used to play with in Colorado were going to play in Helena and that one of my old coaches (Mike Greene) bought the team,” said Bland. “My goal all summer was just to focus on the North American Hockey League and to hopefully get the chance to play there but when that didn’t work out, I knew that my rights had been traded to Helena (from the Missoula Jr. Bruins) so it was an easy choice for me to decide to go somewhere I was comfortable and had one last chance to win a championship with my friends.
“The appeal to me for Helena was the familiarity I had with the area and the guys I knew were on the team. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest just made Montana feel like home and I knew I wanted to play in the NA3 due to their partnership with the NAHL and the ability to move guys on to college.”
Bland said this season has been amazing due to the family-like atmosphere on the team.
”Before coming to Helena, I knew just about everyone on the team,” Bland said. “After spending last year in Missoula, I got to know all the returners from playing against them, so I had an idea of what I was coming into. I also knew just about all the guys joining from Colorado since I played with most of them or we were familiar with each other from summer skates in the area.”
After four seasons in the NAPHL with the Tigers, Bland joined Missoula and averaged better than two points per game in 2020-21 with 33 goals and 36 assists for 69 points in 34 games.
“The adjustment period going from AAA to the NA3 definitely happened a bit quicker than I expected,” said Bland. “I wanted to go somewhere that was the right fit for me as a player and somewhere I knew I’d be able to grow my game even if it wasn’t the best team. I expected to play well but I wasn’t sure what to expect on the points side of things. Our coach in Missoula was Emerson Etem, who is a former first-round NHL draft pick, and he pushed me to be dominant in every game we played.
“The points were just something that came along with not wanting to be beat in any part of the game.”
Bland explained that neither of his parents played hockey, so it was something that became an interest to him completely on his own back in Spokane.
“They got me on the ice when I was around two and I loved it so then they put me into hockey when I was ready, and I never looked back,” said Bland. “I grew up in Spokane from the time I was born until I was 13 when I moved to Kansas City because my dad got a job out there. After playing a year there, I was looking to move up to AAA hockey and was willing to go anywhere to do so. It just so happened that I had a couple teammates from Spokane that were going to play in Colorado Springs, so I ended up getting in contact with the coach and was given the chance to play there.”
Bland played 15U, 16U and two years of 18U for the Tigers.
“I loved every second of it,” said Bland. “My first two years, I played for Mike Greene, and he helped me so much in the development of my game. As someone who didn’t play at that level growing up, Mike helped me adapt as a player and as a person, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without what him and his family have done for me, I can’t thank them enough.
“My other coach for the next two years was Kevin Holmstrom. He was amazing at getting all of us prepared for the next level wherever it is and expected 110 percent from us every day. He claims to not be as much of a player’s coach, but I have nothing but great things to say about Coach Holmstrom and what he’s done for me. He still looks out for his players even after they’re gone and wants what’s best for them.”
Going forward, Bland said he is playing for a Fraser Cup with the Bighorns and after that, he’s hoping for a shot at college hockey.
“Our group of guys is really close, and we all are working towards the same goal as a team,” Bland said. “My goal is also to be able to play college hockey at the highest level I can. My long-term goals for hockey and life are to be able to graduate college and to continue being involved in the game whether it’s as a player or a coach.
“I know that I love the game and want to continue being a part of it.”
— Matt Mackinder
(January 21, 2022)