Hockey development and quality education continue to be a winning combination for young prospects from Meadow Lake and area.

According to Meadow Lake resident Dion Petz – a former teacher at the Edge Hockey School in Calgary – educational facilities with a specific focus on the sport of hockey continue to increase in popularity and have come a long way since his initial involvement nearly 20 years ago.

“I joined Edge School out of Calgary back in 2003,” Petz said. “I was probably the second or third employee hired, and we spent a lot of those early years breaking trail and going against the norm in Canada. We had to kind of fight for everything we got in terms of developing teams, schedules and so on. We were brand new on the scene.”

Petz went on to say, however, those who did enrol quickly came to realize how beneficial such an option could be.

“In my years at Edge, the number one reason for parents putting their kids into that system was the component of high-level hockey – in terms of the training the off-ice, the whole package – combined with the education,” he said. “When you bring those two things together, that became the focal point for families. One of the big things for our students and players at the time was how they went to school in the mornings, and in the afternoons would be on the ice for an hour-and-a-half, come back and do dry land (training) and be done around 4 p.m. This way their evenings were free and, for parents, this was a value-added bonus.”

Petz said students could then use this free time however they saw fit – whether that meant further hockey training or family time was entirely up to the students themselves. He also said the early to mid-2000s was the “takeoff point” for these types of high schools, adding there are now so many options for young hockey players to choose from when going this route.

“You obviously have a history with Notre Dame, some of those places, but they were very few and far between,” he said. “Also, when Sidney Crosby was still ‘Sid the Kid’, he went to one of these schools down in Minnesota and that became recognizable really quickly and also led to a little more popularity. People follow those kinds of things in the hockey world and that helped grow the academy concept.”

He also added, though, hockey academies are not for everyone.

“Players who really succeed in this kind of system are very highly driven – not only as athletes, but also as students,” he added. “It’s all-encompassing. It takes a certain type of student and player to want to be in that type of environment.”

One such player who is driven to succeed is Meadow Lake’s Ryder Ellis, who recently signed on with Prairie Hockey Academy in Caronport, SK. Ellis, who for the last two seasons played Bantam ‘AA’ in North Battleford will start with PHA this fall when he enters Grade 10.

“I decided PHA was where I wanted to go because my family and I thought it was the best thing for me as far as hockey development and getting bigger and stronger,” Ellis told Northern Pride. “It will be cool to practice every day and to travel across Western Canada playing hockey. My future goals and plans after next year are to make a ‘AAA’ Midget team and then at some point move on and play some junior hockey.”

Fellow Meadow Lake players Dawson Gerwing, Jerome Norman and Easton DeBray will be playing Midget ‘AAA’ this fall, the latter being a former PHA student.

“We asked him (DeBray) a lot about it,” stated Ellis’ father, Chris Ellis. “The fact so many young people from our area are having these opportunities goes to show how well Meadow Lake is coaching-wise and with its minor hockey system in terms of developing quality players who are able to do this sort of thing… It’s a great testament to the coaching and to Meadow Lake Minor Hockey to give them the skills and this opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Ryder Ellis, 15, said he is somewhat nervous about leaving home at such a young age.

“But, it will also be fun to hang out with teammates and go to school in the morning and have hockey all afternoon,” he said. “I will have more responsibilities as far as doing my own laundry and just day to day stuff. The best part is all my meals will be in the cafeteria so I don’t have to worry about cooking. I do have family that is close so if I need something they can be there fast.”

by Phil Ambroziak