It started with Beaver Brae Secondary School in Kenora, Ont.
Ten educational institutions overseen by the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board feature a Hockey Canada Skills Academy (HCSA) for the 2019-20 school year thanks to the success of the hockey program established at Beaver Brae in 2012.
Dave Tresoor, the school’s vice-principal and founder of the program, said the purpose behind incorporating hockey instruction into Grade 9-12 curriculum was threefold. The school wanted to stimulate disengaged students, provide ice time to student-athletes wishing to take their craft to the next level and to knock down the barriers preventing kids from trying out the game for the first time.
It did not take long for the academy – an independent entity from Hockey Canada until 2015 – to cause positive transformative effects in the school.
“We saw an increase in attendance among the group of students that we decided to target and an increased sense of belonging,” remarks Tresoor. “Some students had never felt what it was like to be part of a team. They felt the hockey academy provided that. And, more importantly, they felt like they were a part of the [school] community by being a part of the hockey academy.”
The program was also supporting students who were already well-versed in competitive hockey. Bonus time on the ice, and in the gym, helped students refine skills that would give them an edge over competitors vying for spots on Midget AAA and junior rosters.
Two academy students – forwards Carter Tresoor (Dave’s son) and Dylan Winsor – were even drafted into the Ontario Hockey League by the Kitchener Rangers.
By the end of the second year of the program, schools in neighbouring communities were expressing a desire to add hockey to its Monday to Friday schedule.
Beaver Brae Secondary School received HCSA designation at the start of the 2015-16 school year. Tresoor says aligning with the HCSA framework was significant as it helped facilitate the growth in the number of skills academies in the district over the past seven years for kids enrolled from Grade 4 to Grade 12.
The rise in school attendance and tighter-knit sense of community spawned by the introduction of a hockey program into Beaver Brae has also have been evident in the other nine educational institutions in the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board with an HCSA.
Improved student performance in core classes such as English and math is another. Josh Myles, the facilitator of the HCSA programs in Red Lake and Ear Falls, Ont., attributes this development to students transferring the values they learn on the ice into the classroom.
“Hockey teaches the students respect, character and resilience. Kids starting in the game might not have confidence right off the bat, but when they start to learn the basic skills and conquer obstacles in their path, they gain confidence and can transfer it into the classroom.”
Myles said one of the “biggest challenges” – an enjoyable one – for HCSA instructors is the balancing act of producing a high-quality experience for students new to hockey and advanced students aspiring to ascend to higher levels of the game.
Kailey Clark, the head coach of the HSCA at Sioux Mountain Public School, said setting up different stations on the ice is one of the most effective ways coaches serve all participants.
“Depending on what station a student is at we can add or take away components of a drill so that it challenges each group at the level they are that.”
The accessible nature of the academies goes beyond designing skill-appropriate drills or workout routines – each HCSA ensures all kids get equipment.
“I have a storeroom of equipment, and I provide it to anyone who wants it from the elementary level up to the high school level,” says Brooks Mejia, the head instructor for the HCSA academies in the Kenora area. “The inclusive and engaging nature of this program has brought new kids into the sport, which is rewarding.”
Tresoor said Canadian Tire Jumpstart is an invaluable partner in providing hockey gear for kids. He also gives a lot of acknowledgement to the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board’s senior administrative personnel for their huge commitment towards ensuring HCSA programs continue to provide students with a desire to play a chance to play.
Visit HockeyCanada.ca/HCSA to learn more about the Hockey Canada Skills Academy programs.