The Smithers Secondary Hockey Canada Skills Academy Program is back for its second season.
This year, the program has roughly doubled in size, from 30 students to 50, and now includes Grade 8 and 9 students.
The course allows hockey players to take either an elective or a physical education credit and spend it on the ice rink.
They then focus on individual skill set development, not on learning systems.
It was developed by Hockey Canada as a way for young hockey players to get away from the rigours of team practice and focus more on creativity; it’s meant to compliment the skills taught by minor hockey teams.
As such, one of the requirements is that students must be registered in minor hockey.
“It’s targeted towards players who have already played hockey,” teacher and program director Derek Holland said. “It’s meant to be a development course, not an intro to hockey course.”
The students are split into junior and senior groups with the Grade 8 and 9s practicing three times a week in the morning, and the seniors three times a week in the afternoon.
Students are on the ice for three 80 minute sessions and two off-ice sessions per week. The off-ice training focuses on goal setting, strength and conditioning, nutrition and injury awareness and management. At the beginning of the year, Holland asks each player what they would like to work on, then incorporates it into his program.
So far, after two years of full enrolment, he’s pleased with the results.
“As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s going really well, from our perspective, but you’d have to talk to the kids.”
The kids agree.
“I’ve been playing hockey for 12 years, so signing up was a no-brainer,” student Cole Michelle, who also plays house league midget, said.
“It’s increased my skill a lot, it teaches us all around ability.
Holland helped get the program going two years ago.
“I had been wanting to do something like this for a long time. It was just a matter of getting the school and the administration on board and for whatever reason, last year just seemed like the right time to do it.”
Eventually, Holland would like to expand it to elementary schools as well.
“I think once the second sheet of ice is ready to go, we will look into expanding. I know the school board and the administration are keen to get something going for the younger age groups.”
The Hockey Canada Skills Academy Program was created at the Open Ice Summit in 1999, after the Canadian Men’s hockey team’s fourth place finish at the Nagano Olympics.
Their goal was to, “Promote cooperative efforts between school boards, local hockey associations and sponsors, to better utilize ice times and school facilities and move towards the development of sport schools.”
Since its inception, hundreds of schools across Canada have signed up for the program. It runs from September to February.