“The majority of parents want that balance,” Hodgson says. “One of the statistics behind that is, ‘How many are ever going to make the NHL?’ What we’re doing here is trying to have that education in place because every junior player is one injury or one concussion away from not playing. That’s what we ask: ‘What is Plan B?’ We don’t see ourselves as ‘Plan B,’ but as the preferred plan.”
On concussions, the school is particularly careful. It does base-line testing with all players prior to the season, and the school is part of a larger concussion study with the University of Calgary. It also offers programs to other minor-hockey organizations but, Hodgson says, “It’s not something a lot of people have taken us up on.”
Despite such careful management of such injuries, Hodgson says, “We get a lot of push back from parents” who want their child back in the lineup as soon as possible.”
Their fear, he says, is once a child “is off the treadmill he won’t be able to get back on.” The other youngsters will have moved on in skill. One of the hardest tasks, he says, is to “manage expectations” of parents.
Hockey director Andrew Boutilier, a Cape Breton native who joined Edge School earlier this year from Fort McMurray, Alta., where he was executive director of the junior Oil Barons hockey club, agrees with Hodgson that dealing with the parents who are paying such enormous fees can prove tricky. “Parents get it into their heads that if their kid isn’t playing, their kid is losing stride.”
Coming from a long family history of coal miners, Boutilier is only too aware of the exceptional costs of many of today’s hockey programs.
“I don’t think you can change the way it’s gone,” he says. “We certainly see it in the evolution of spring hockey. A parent gets it into their head that if they don’t get into more hockey in spring, then the kid is likely losing strides and can’t make it up. I think on those things you have an effect of kind of pricing yourself out of the game.”
Boutilier prides himself on a “coach-to-develop” philosophy rather than a “coach-to-win” approach. He wants every player, girl and boy, to experience pressure situations rather than have specified players handle the high-pressure moments of power plays or penalty kills. Sometimes this, too, can cause push back from parents who not only see their child as the go-to player, but feel they are paying for it.
“As much as you coach kids, these days you have to coach parents,” Boutilier says.
“You’ll always have that in hockey. When you sign up and you pay for your membership there’s a certain ‘entitlement’ that comes with that. And certainly a lot of expectation – especially in this environment. So you want to make sure that every kid is given an equal opportunity to have the highest training. I don’t think that’s an unfair expectation by any parent.”
The thing is, it works, at least in this situation. The Edge School teams, boys and girls, are strong and competitive, and many of the students play at the highest levels for their age in area hockey associations.
Boutilier boasts his school can take a bantam house-league player and make him into a bantam AAA player.
“Absolutely,” he says. “We’ve done it.”
But, he cautions, it isn’t automatic: “The kid still has to do the work. It can’t be a drop-off and pick-up program. We’re not in the game of selling hope.”
Hodgson says the rise of “hockey academies” in Canada should be no surprise, as they have long enjoyed success in the United States. There, hockey registration is up, whereas in Canada in recent years, it has fallen.
There is a reason for that, the school’s head believes.