TJ Irey grew up wanting to play for the Bismarck Bobcats.
Soon, that will become a reality.
On Wednesday, the Bobcats acquired the rights of the former Bismarck High star, sending assets to the Lone Star (Texas) Brahmas, a fellow NAHL team.
Irey spent the last two seasons playing for the Estevan Bruins of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, but playing his final junior season at home was an open-netter, so to speak.
"I had a great experience in Estevan. Everything about it was great," Irey said. "When this opportunity came up, being able to come back home and play, it was a pretty big no-brainer for me."
The Bobcats have been eyeing Irey for a while. He skated with the team back in his high school days while he was scoring over 100 points in his junior and senior seasons combined for the Demons.
"I grew up going to Bobcat games. I've always wanted to play for them," Irey said.
However, after high school, he wanted to try something different and Estevan provided that.
"I wanted to get out of Bismarck, experience life a little bit and I loved it up there," Irey said. "I made a lot of great friends and we had a lot of fun and I felt like I was able to develop my game."
The Bobcats' brain trust of head coach/GM Layne Sedevie and assistant GM Garrett Roth were able to put the transaction together to bring Irey home.
"He played at Bismarck High, the same high school I did," Sedevie said. "It means a lot when you can have those kids play in their own city and wear the Bobcat jersey."
It's not just a handout, however. The Bobcats' coach said Irey earned it.
"He's done a good job of wanting to be a hockey player," Sedevie said. "He brings grit and good character to our team, and he has the ability to play in all situations."
Irey, a forward, features an all-around game on the ice. He can light lamp -- he scored 19 goals in 46 games last season -- part of a 46-point campaign. But he's also willing to throw his body around.
"If I need to hit somebody, then I'll hit somebody. If I need to try and step up with the skill stuff, I feel like I can do that too," Irey said. "I want to do whatever the team needs. They have a really good team coming back this year and I feel like I can fit in and help. That's what's really important, winning games, putting ourselves in position to hopefully win the Robertson Cup."
There might be two Ireys on the ice this season for the Bobcats.
TJ's cousin Kirklan had six goals and 18 assists in 51 games last season. Kirklan's USHL rights are held by the Sioux Falls Musketeers.
"We'll allow the process to play out and if they do end up coming back to Bismarck they'll be big pieces to our team and guys we'll rely on to play heavy minutes," Roth said in June of the Bismarck players tied to USHL teams.
Kirklan has already signed with NCAA Division I Bemidji State. TJ has the same target.
"That's the main goal, but obviously I have to come out and play well for the Bobcats and help them win games," TJ said.
Training camp for the Bobcats starts on Aug. 22. Their first preseason game is Sept. 6. The 62-game regular season kicks off Sept. 18 at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn.
"It's a long grind, but having the opportunity to play junior hockey, and now this season for the Bobcats, it's really cool," TJ said. "I'm definitely excited for the season."
Update on Quinn
TJ's brother Quinn Irey continues his pursuit of a pro baseball career.
Quinn finished last season with the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks and started the 2019 season with them as well before being released in May.
Quinn starred in college at the University of Jamestown and then played for the Bismarck Larks.