RAINY RIVER — Jackson Arpin has already experienced a lot in his hockey career.
However, the 21-year-old forward from Rainy River has never taken to the ice for a game at Fort William Gardens in Thunder Bay.
That changes this weekend as Arpin’s Manitoba Bisons go up against the Lakehead Thunderwolves on Friday and Saturday night as part of the Thunderwolves’ Christmas Challenge series.
“It’s going to be pretty cool,” Arpin said during a phone conversation from Winnipeg on Wednesday. “I’ve heard it’s a nice rink, and they get a lot of fans there, so it’ll be nice to see what that experience is like.”
This won’t be the first time the Bisons – who compete in the Canada West conference – have faced the Thunderwolves this season.
The two sides squared off in a pre-season contest on Sept. 22 in Winnipeg. Lakehead won that matchup by a score of 5-3.
Arpin says that the main goal from this weekend in Thunder Bay is to use the games as a tune-up for when they return to league play, but he admitted that the Bisons players want to get a little bit of revenge on the Thunderwolves.
“That was one of our first games of the year when we played them,” Arpin said. “We had a lot of new guys come in, and everyone was getting used to our systems.
“Now that we have dialled in and we play a way more structured game, I think we’ll see how much we’ve implemented those things this weekend.
“Lakehead will be a different team as well though, so it’s going to be a pretty good matchup.”
Arpin – who is studying engineering – is in his sophomore campaign with the Bisons.
After suiting up in 15 games as a freshman and posting three points a year ago, he’s got two goals and three assists in 16 contests this season.
“I think it’s been nice to kind of come into this year having a little bit more of an expectation of what the games are like, what the year is like and how to manage everything,” said Arpin, who played his junior hockey for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Winkler Flyers.
“I definitely feel like you’re a little bit more comfortable out there as a second-year player. It’s a big transition coming from junior hockey to college hockey. The day-to-day life is a lot different, and the hockey is a lot different. It takes a little bit to get adjusted and reacclimatized to all of those things.”
In Arpin’s case, the most significant change was getting used to the workload that comes with engineering courses and balancing it with the travel schedule the Bisons have.
“When you are flying out to British Columbia and Alberta for games and getting back to school to start off the week, you are just trying to keep up with all the classes and everything else,” Arpin said.
“It’s a very busy schedule, but it’s been good, and I really enjoy it.”
The 2023-24 campaign has been one of change for the Bisons.
Longtime bench boss Mike Sirant retired at the end of last season and was replaced by Gordon Burnett, who was an assistant coach with the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors.
Manitoba is tied with the Trinity Western Spartans for the eighth spot in the nine-team Canada West conference with a 2-13-1-0 mark. Still, it is coming off a big win prior to the Christmas break over the perennial powerhouse Alberta Golden Bears.
“We’ve been in every game we’ve played, and we’ve had a chance at the end of most of them, which is all we can ask for,” Arpin said.
“Sometimes, the bounces aren’t going our way, but hopefully, in the second half, that’ll change. We’ve been putting ourselves in the opportunity to get the points, and we just got to find a way to get to the job done now.”