Combining the best of athletics and academics is what the Highland and G.P. Vanier Hockey Skills Academy is all about.
Highland has offered the program for several years, while this is the first year at Vanier. "(The academy) is a course specially developed to help student athletes excel in both academics and athletics. It gives graduation credits for working on your game ... during school hours," notes Pati Creamer, who is administrator for both programs.
Both programs are a licensed Hockey Canada Skills Academy, which means Hockey Canada standardizes and monitors the delivery of the hockey experience both on and off the ice. Students in Grades 9 through 12 focus on individual skill development and academic achievement.
The program is designed for the competitive or recreational, beginner or advanced, male and female player. "It's for athletes who want more time on task, committed to being the best they can be, and players striving to obtain college scholarships or play Junior hockey," Creamer notes.
Creamer, who operates Leading Edge Hockey Development in Comox, and Lee McKillican do the on-ice sessions at Highland while McKillican handles the off-ice components. Dave Miller and assistant coaches Tony Wishart, John Carswell and Graeme McFadyen do the on-ice at Vanier while Miller handles the off-ice component.
"All three of us went to Calgary this year to participate in the annual Hockey Canada Skills Academy Seminar," Creamer said. "The seminar includes staff from all the Hockey Canada Skills Academies across Canada and reviews all aspects of the program, keeping us up to date on new hockey development products, programs and strategies. Getting together with other coaches from across the country is amazing...so much sharing and chatting about skill development. This seminar is a huge resource opportunity for us."
Creamer said both Highland and Vanier follow the same program, although due to scheduling of blocks they do not do it together. Vanier has ice time Monday and Wednesday morning at the Comox Valley Sports Centre while Highland skates Tuesday and Thursday morning at Glacier Gardens.
Creamer notes the local high school academies feature a strong fitness element. "Our kids are off-ice training for five months. When they’re not on the ice it's fitness and skill development."
A unique aspect to Hockey Canada skills camps is the focus on individuals. "There's no team aspect," Creamer said. "Kids works on stick handling, shooting and passing, which Hockey Canada and myself agree is where minor hockey needs help. Kids need more time on task. They don’t need any more games and all the stuff that goes with games.
"The Hockey Canada mandate says we're not allowed to have teams. That’s something that separates us from the very expensive academies that are run out of the Okanagan and such that cost anywhere between $20 and $30 thousand."
The Highland and Vanier academies include a coaching unit, where student coaches run skill development practices for players age 8 to 11.
"All proceeds from Coaching Club Kids go to KidSport, a community run organization that gives financial support to children in the Comox Valley who would not otherwise be able to afford organized sports. I call it kids helping kids. When your player signs up for the development program, they're helping someone else," Creamer said.
Coaching Club Kids began Oct. 26 with future sessions set for Nov. 23 and 30. It runs Fridays 6:30-7:30 a.m. at Sports Centre Arena #2.
Creamer said community involvement is "huge" at the academies. "We really try to get out there and get the community involved. We invite outside fitness instructors to come in and work with our kids. That also gives the kids an introduction to what community programs are out there."
Recently, academy participants visited the Comox Fire Department, where fire chief Gord Schriener and his staff ran the players through their rigorous firefighters' fitness training routine.
Now in its eighth year, the hockey academy continues to grow in popularity and generally has a wait list. For more information, call Creamer at 250-339-0705 or click www.leadingedgehockey.com.