Play hockey every day at school – for students attending Canada’s many hockey academies and private schools with a hockey focus, that’s living the dream.
Having hockey and school all in the same place is a huge plus, students and private-school administrators say.
For families who have experienced the school-hockey divide, the private hockey academy experience can be a relief, says Andre Savage, director of the Canadian International Hockey Academy (CIH) in Rockland, Ont., near Ottawa.
“Some can travel an hour to two hours when it comes to [minor hockey] practice. Mostly everything is done after school – leave after school, go to the practice, get home at 11 p.m. and homework hasn’t been done yet,” he says.
“[The academy] is an opportunity where all the hockey and the education is done throughout the day. At night we have specific times for study hour where they can really focus on their education. It’s an opportunity to teach that discipline – hockey and school in one area.”
CIH is a Grade 9-12 boarding school with 84 boys enrolled in 2017-18. Students come from around the world, including Switzerland, Australia, the United States, Japan, Russia, as well as Canada, Mr. Savage says.
Edward Bradley, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student from the British town of Wokingham, near London, practised only once a week and played 16 games in a year at home. In contrast, at CIH he played close to 60 games. He made Britain’s under-18 national team in 2017.
Samuel Mattie, 18, of St. Lazar, Que., appreciates the structure of private school after doing most of his schooling in the public system.
“It’s the most structured year I’ve ever had for school and hockey combined. Coming from Quebec, where I was on the ice four or five times a week, I thought it was a really good program. But coming here, I see how much better it is. It’s really been a great experience.”
In Calgary, Courtney Kollman, a female hockey player, says her time at the Edge School “truly grew me as a player.”
“All the facilities and the coaching was unbelievable and you get to do it every day,” says Ms. Kollman, who played for Canada’s bronze-medal winning National Under-18 Women’s Team in Russia in January.
Founded in 1999, Edge, a private school for Grades 4 to 12, offers a number of sports programs but half of the school’s 300 students are in the hockey academy, says Edge CEO Pat McLaughlin. About a quarter of those hockey students are female. The school has two arenas on campus and a state-of-the-art fitness centre. It doesn’t offer a boarding option.
For Ms. Kollman, attending a private school in Grades 11 and 12 was “the best move I ever made.”
“Our school’s so small they know what you’re doing and they know that you’re training and give a little bit of flexibility to us …. The teachers are always available to us and if you’re on the road you can give them an e-mail and they’ll answer you back right away. We’ll have study hall periods on the road.”
After graduating from high school, Ms. Kollman, 18, received a scholarship from Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, Penn., which has the small campus and good hockey program she wanted. Her hockey goal is to play on the senior women’s team in the Olympics some day.
While the private hockey school option cuts down on evening travel to practices, the players still participate in league play and tournaments that require a great deal of time on a bus.
The Humboldt Broncos bus crash in April, which shook Canada’s hockey community, hit particularly hard in the tight-knit high-school hockey environment.
Humboldt Broncos coach and general manager Darcy Haugan, who died in that accident, was an alumnus of Briercrest College, the parent school of the Prairie Hockey Academy in Caronport, Sask.
“[Darcy] would come back every summer to run the hockey camp [at Briercrest] so there are some connections and deep roots with Darcy and the Bronco family,” says Prairie Hockey’s president and general manager Justin Simkins, who was a friend of Mr. Haugan.
The school brought in counsellors and encouraged Prairie Hockey students to talk through their feelings about the Broncos tragedy. All the students can relate to the busing issue, Mr. Simkins says.
“We put thousands of miles on as a hockey community every year. We heal through playing again for the guys that can’t play. I think all our families and players felt that way. We haven’t had any hesitation or pushback as to busing for the next season.”
Ms. Kollman agrees. She didn’t know anyone personally on the Broncos team, but the crash affected the students at Edge. Being on a bus every second weekend and knowing it could happen to anyone brings the tragedy close to home, she says.
But she and her classmates wouldn’t consider pulling out of hockey because of the risk. To continue on is to honour the fallen Broncos, Ms. Kollman says.
Prairie Hockey is comparatively new in the growing academy field, just completing its first year of operation. It has roots, however, in a popular hockey program that was offered by its academic partner, Caronport School.
In 2017-18 Prairie had 19 student athletes, with 12 of them living in Caronport’s dorms and seven either living at home or being billeted in nearby Moose Jaw. The student body will increase to 38 to 2018-2019, and there are plans to keep growing, Mr. Simkins says.
Saskatchewan is a hotbed of hockey schooling, with the venerable Athol Murray College of Notre Dame about 45 minutes away from Moose Jaw.
Mr. Simkins feels there is still ample room for his school’s growth, even with the 90-year-old Notre Dame hockey tradition already established.
“It’s no different than like when two big-box stores open up on a corner. It gives choice and opportunity and I think it just increases demand.”
Like other hockey academy administrators, Mr. Simkins stresses that the school is not a “hockey factory.”
“We focus on the development of the person – how to be a leader and how to make tough decisions in life.
“Not only do we get strength training and leadership coaching but we have guest speakers who talk to us about mental health, or nutrition or about healthy relationships. Or what it looks like to have proper etiquette on social media and build your brand, because today is such a social-media driven world.”
While all the schools aim to train well-rounded individuals, they also want to turn out professional hockey players and many boast a list of NHL, junior, Team Canada and professional European players on their alumni page.
Edge had five NHL players on its alumni list as of spring 2018, including Mathew Dumba of the Minnesota Wild, two recent graduates drafted to NHL teams and close to 30 alumni playing in professional leagues here and abroad and two 2018 students identified for the 2018 NHL draft.
CIH has been in operation for seven years. It had its first alumnus drafted to the NHL in summer 2017 - Gabe Vilardi to the Los Angeles Kings. The school has a long list of graduates in the OHL, QMJHL, and many college teams in the United States and Canada.
Dancers, rowers pursue the dream
Canada’s private schools offer a wide range of concentrated sports and athletic programs and turn out some of the nation’s most distinguished athletes.
Brentwood College School in Mill Bay, B.C., boasts 23 Olympic rowers on its alumni roster. Despite that, not all exceptional rowers come to the school for that sport in the first place.
Riley Toporowski had little experience in rowing before attending the Vancouver Island school. When he entered Brentwood in Grade 10, basketball was his main sport and rowing was a sideline.
“I was halfway through my Grade 11 season and wasn’t getting quite the point time [in basketball.] So I decided to drop basketball and commit to rowing.
“In Grade 11, I made the varsity boat, which was an awesome step for me. It was recruiting time for universities, which starts around that time as well. I e-mailed coaches with video of me rowing – just keeping in touch. That summer I made the junior national team. I went to the CanAmMex Regatta – I competed against Mexico and America.”
And he landed a rowing scholarship to attend George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“It’s an opportunity to go to a good school in the U.S. without breaking the bank,” Mr. Toporowski says.
One advantage Brentwood has in terms of rowing is the mild climate on Vancouver Island. Student athletes can be out on the water 12 months a year, says Clayton Johnston, Brentwood’s director of admissions.
Despite the number of Olympians the school has turned out in rowing, he says it isn’t the largest athletic program offered at Brentwood. The school has won the provincial basketball title three years in a row. The school offers a wide variety of sports, including basketball, hockey, field hockey and tennis. Brentwood is a co-educational boarding school with about 550 students.
At Edge School in Calgary the dance students are emphatically viewed as athletes by the school community, artistic director Cyndi Scott says.
“They have trainers. They work with our sports psychologists and the trainers on their conditioning. We have our athletic therapy department that works hand-in-hand with injuries and injury prevention,” Ms. Scott says.
“We really have been known for dancers who want that transitionary program from their initial training to a professional world,” she says. And students and grads are making their way into professional companies and elite schools around the world. One student just started at the Dutch National Ballet School, Ms. Scott says, and other students are at the Paris Opera Ballet school and the American Ballet Theatre.
“We’ve had students go on to Cirque and Broadway.”
Edge offers a number of athletic academies, including a large hockey academy. The co-ed dance program has about 70 full-time students.
“One of the advantages is that we’re small,” Ms. Scott says. “We have classes within the dance program that are five to 10 students.” The school offers ballet, modern, jazz and lyrical dance.
Being in a private school with athletes in many sports is an advantage to her students, Ms. Scott adds.
“It’s great to be in an environment where everyone has a passion and a schedule. You understand when your friends are unavailable because everyone’s pursuing their dreams. When we have shows at the school or competitions, the hockey players come and watch. They all support each other.”
What sports schools cost
Tuition for hockey academies and sports private schools varies by location and type. Boarding schools are more expensive.
- The Canadian International Hockey Academy, for instance, has tuition and hockey fees of $39,900 for Canadian students. That includes boarding but doesn’t include uniform and sports-gear fees. The Banff Hockey Academy website lists its tuition as $32,450. Stanstead College in Quebec, noted for its hockey program, has fees of $49,900, according to its website.
- Day schools, and sometimes the day programs offered as an option at boarding schools, may have tuition lower than or about $20,000. The tuition at Edge School in Calgary, which offers no boarding, is $18,270 for 2018-19.