“I am always pinching myself because this is a dream job,” says Barrie, a 31-year-old Phys Ed instructor and the man in charge of the Hockey Canada Skills Academy that runs out of Edward Milne.
Barrie’s arms aren’t actually discoloured, but they might as well be because when hearing him talk about his position as head of the skills academy, it’s clear he considers himself one of the fortunate few who have so much fun on the job, they never actually work a day in their life.
The Edward Milne skills academy, located just outside Victoria on Vancouver Island, is one of 79 Hockey Canada-sanctioned schools across Canada and was home to 50 students this year, both male and female, ranging in age from 14 to 17 years old, with skill levels from extraordinary to simply ordinary.
This is an academy for hockey players who want to improve their game while also working their way through school, one that places equal importance on what goes on in the classroom and on the ice.
An ideal pupil, according to Barrie, is a “committed student who is willing to learn and that no matter where their skill level is, they’re trying to get better each day, they’re trying to work on the small things.”
The minute details that make the difference between a B+ and an A and a botched offensive play and a highlight reel goal are what Barrie excels at teaching. He believes this is the best environment for doing so, as the focus is on the individual and not the team.
“I think that is truly different from the team approach, when you’re worried about building a team and winning. The students don’t feel pressure to be something they’re not for the team, because everything is simply focused on accelerating their skill sets.
“As the kids improve their skills, you see them enjoy the game even more and I think that’s probably the most rewarding thing for me, just seeing them enjoy the game as their skills improve.”
Whether students simply play at school for the love of the sport or move onto bigger and better, like WHLers Tyson Barrie, Cody Carlson and Brad Hoban, the academy covers every aspect of hockey during daily half-day sessions.
Students hit the ice for three sessions a week; the others are split between dry land training and strength training or classroom lessons on topics such as sports nutrition and sport psychology.
To Barrie, the only thing wrong with the program is that it wasn’t around when he was a young player tearing around the ice. But even without having attended the academy at Edward Milne, he can still hold his own on the ice.
Barrie gets a chance to strut his stuff in the annual teachers vs. students hockey game, an event that most players have circled on their calendars from the first day of classes.
“It’s probably the biggest highlight for our kids each year, to play against the teachers and a few pros and just showcase their skills in front of the school,” says Barrie, who routinely calls upon the likes of former Vancouver Canucks forward Greg Adams, Victoria Grizzlies general manager Jackson Penney and journeymen Clayton Young and Victor Gervais, veterans who have laced up their skates in just about every league imaginable, to ensure the teachers always come out on top.
“We’ve got to keep the students humble, so we make sure we win each year,” laughs Barrie.
Final score aside, there are no losers at this academy, just well-rounded students who get the job done with pencils and sticks in hand.