Giants’ Roman riding out virus crisis with billet
Milos Roman’s “experience” with the Vancouver Giants is lasting longer than anticipated because of COVID-19.
The 20-year-old centre has remained at his billet’s place in Tsawwassen rather than returning to his family’s home in Slovakia. All parties involved agreed it was safer for him to wait out the pandemic in B.C. for the time being.
“It’s no problem. He’s not a difficult guy to have around. He fits right in,” said Ron Ewing. Roman has lived with Ewing and his family during his three seasons with the WHL team.
A 2018 fourth-round NHL draft pick of the Calgary Flames, Roman was one of Vancouver’s three overagers this season, meaning Vancouver’s 4-3 overtime road loss to the Prince George Cougars on March 7 was the final game of his Giants career.
No one was aware of that at the time, of course. The WHL initially put its regular season on hold March 12. The remaining league games were called off for good March 18, and the playoffs and the Memorial Cup national tournament scheduled for Kelowna in May were both scrapped on March 23.
Teams are permitted to carry two Europeans. Vancouver winger Michal Kvasnica, a Czech, didn’t head home immediately when the season was cancelled, but the 19-year-old eventually returned to Europe.
Slovakia has been one of the strictest countries regarding COVID-19. Three international airports were closed last month. They brought in mandatory mask rules last month, too, and there are reports violators could be fined by police for non-essential travel this Easter weekend.
Roman said to return home right now he would have to fly into Vienna, Austria, and then make the 80-kilometre jaunt to the border. He said his parents wouldn’t likely be able to meet him and controls at the borders have been tight.
Slovakia (population: 5.45 million) had 715 COVID -19 cases and two deaths as of Friday morning.
“It’s a scary time,” said Roman, whose father works in a factory and whose mom works in a retirement home. One of his two older brothers still lives at home.
“I’m worrying every day about my family. You call every day. You stay in contact as much as you can. But everyone is still worried. They go to work every day during the week and then they come straight home. That’s all they do.”
The Ewing family has been billeting Giants for five seasons. They were the billet home for winger Radovan Bondra, another Slovak, before welcoming Roman.
Bondra and Roman played together for the Slovaks at the world juniors in 2017, and Bondra put in a good word for Roman with Ewing after the Giants picked Roman in the 2017 CHL import draft. Vancouver team captain and defenceman Alex Kannok Leipert also billeted at the home this season.
The Giants use the Ladner Leisure Centre as a base. They have their own permanent dressing room and coaches offices there, and they practise there almost exclusively. Several members of the Giants live in the Ladner and Tsawwassen area, most notably team owner Ron Toigo.
“When we were starting to finish the season, we all knew that many of the worst parts of the pandemic were in Europe,” said Roman. “I talked to my billet mom and she said right away that it wasn’t a good idea for me to go back until things started to settle down.
“I’m very thankful for all three years that I’ve spent with them. From the start, I needed a lot of help to do things. They’ve always been there for me.”
Roman is still not sure where he’ll play next season. The Flames have until June 1 to sign him to a contract or they lose their rights to him.