Jonathan McDonald, an educator at the École secondaire catholique (ESC) Marie-Rivier French-language secondary school in Kingston, Ont., says he always strives to provide his students with the opportunities he wanted when he was a child.
After hearing through parents about the success of Hockey Canada Skills Academy (HCSA) programs in other Ontario schools, McDonald became resolute in adding an HCSA to the ESC Marie-Rivier list of course offerings for 2019-20.
He realized his objective in grand style as 42 students – 33 boys and nine girls – are tackling a curriculum that features a combination of on-ice sessions and away-from-the-rink activities (dryland training, and classroom health and wellness training). The participants in Grades 7-10 are full-on learners in the program, while the Grade 11 and 12 enrolees function as co-op students who have a stake in the instruction process.
McDonald says one of the consistent pleasures for him in year one of the program is witnessing the students form bonds with each other.
“The kids miss part of their lunch hour, and they are really happy about that, which is kind of weird,” says McDonald with a chuckle. “They are just having more time with their friends and are spending time developing relationships with [other] kids.”
The growing group cohesion is being cultivated by the off-ice activities organized by McDonald and fellow HCSA coach Maxim Proulx, who also teaches at ESC Marie-Rivier.
On Nov. 27, the students travelled to nearby Belleville, Ont., to experience a day in the life of an American Hockey League player; they were on the ice during a Belleville Senators practice and had a chance to mingle with a couple of players and coaches from the Laval Rocket. A highlight on the day for many was meeting Laval assistant coach Alex Burrows, who spent 12 years in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators.
Another highlight was a seminar evening that featured keynote addresses about overcoming adversity from successful hockey figures born in Kingston. One of the speakers was forward John Tripp, who played 43 games in the NHL before spending the last 12 years of his career playing in Germany. The other speaker was Brooke Beazer, who starred as a goaltender in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League for the Brampton Thunder and Toronto Furies.
“The message that I shared that night was if you want something, you’ve got to work for it,” says Beazer, who also made a guest coaching appearance at one of the HCSA on-ice sessions before the Christmas break. “You can be born with talent, but ultimately it is your work ethic that defines your level of success.”
Beazer adds that she was wholly impressed by the thoughtful questions posed by the students that night, which included a couple of boys asking about the state of the women’s game in Canada.
Grade 8 student Antoine Carriere says it was gratifying to learn about Beazer and Tripp’s experiences in the game.
“It’s inspiring, and it motivates you to work even harder. Goals that might seem impossible to you can be possible – just never give up.”
McDonald is pleased that functions such as the forum evening were as illuminating for the students as he hoped they would be. The teacher wants the program at ESC Marie-Rivier to follow in the vein of many successful HCSAs from coast to coast to coast by imparting key life lessons.
“There are so many things that hockey offers students beyond just an increasing set of skills. We want to provide them with the best experience we possibly can."