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Top Minor Hockey Plays of the 2021/22 Season

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Hockey Players Turning to Figure Skating Training

There is more to hockey then having the ability to score from the hashmarks like Austin Matthews or to go one-on-five like Connor McDavid. Possessing advanced skating techniques is a big advantage when it comes to playing hockey. 

Now, teams and players from house league all the way up to NHL are building these skills through figure skating techniques taught by former figure skaters.

When one thinks about hockey, they often see it as a highly completive game with huge hits, physical plays and powerful goals. When someone thinks of figure skating, it is almost the opposite — beautifully choreographed moves with spinning jumps all set to whimsical music.

On the surface, hockey and figure skating couldn’t be farther apart but if you watch closely a lot of figure skating techniques are used in almost every single play in the NHL and are now being taught to hockey players at a young age.

Barb Underhill, former Canadian Olympic figure skater who worked as a Skating Consultant for the Toronto Maple Leafs for 10 years before leaving the club in November of 2021, is often recognized as a pioneer of translated figure skating techniques to the hockey arena.

Underhill said the best part about her job was seeing players improve and reach “that next step” and then receiving those texts after a game thanking her. She says she is just “one small piece to the puzzle.”

Ashlea Jones, a competitive figure skater for 15 years, has spent the past seven years developing her passion for skating and teaching these figure skating techniques to hockey players.

Jones started figure skating when she was only three-years-old and began competing at a national level at 13 before retiring from competitive skating when she was 26.

She decided to become a hockey skating coach after watching her brother’s hockey games.

“When I’d be at their games, I would identify things like ‘Oh, that kid’s skating’s a little funny, if he did this, then it would make them better’, ” said Jones on what pushed her from teaching figure skating to coaching hockey players.

“Figure skating is such a technical sport. Every turn you do in figure skating is marked — your entry to a turn, your exit to a turn it, whether it be an inside edge outside edge. How you do it, your speed and execution, everything is so precise and so technical, it is what makes figure skating coaches good skating coaches for hockey players.”

Jones, who operates Ashlea Jones Athletes in Training across rinks in southern Ontario, said that figure skaters must be very detailed in every movement.

“Not only because we’re launching ourselves in the air, doing three rotations, and hopefully landing on that little one eighth of an inch blade, but you’ve got to hit the proper (skate) edge on takeoff and land on the proper edge,” said Jones.

When translating that precision over to hockey, it makes players more efficient and “makes their jobs easier”.

“We teach players how to pull their body in proper position,” Jones said. “We go over anatomical movement patterns, edging and understanding edge manipulation, and how to hit pivots and turns and we take the technical aspect of the figure skating and implement it into the hockey.”

She says that teaching those techniques to hockey players is difficult to to do because figure skating is known to be more “balletic” and “rhythmic” than the power and speed of hockey. Over the years she has learned how to combine the two sports together to create something that the hockey player can understand and not just use in a game but when to use each technique.

Jones says her program focuses the most on edging control balance, edge manipulation, weight, position on the blade, alignment of the body and making sure that the player is getting proper triple flection and extension.

Jones has worked with players from house league all the way to NHL players such as Ty Dellandrea of the Dallas Stars, Michael Carcone of the Arizona Coyotes and the Edmonton Oilers’ Warren Foegele.

“I’ve also have some guys that got drafted to the NHL, to teams like Seattle, Florida, Carolina, and Minnesota,” said Jones, who also works with a lot of OHL players — the next generation players —  who she has worked with since they were four years old.

“It’s fun. I get to see the evolution of these kids that go from minor hockey all the way to the NHL. It’s kind of cool,” said Jones, who was hired by the OHL’s Oshawa Generals in August of 2021 to help improve the club’s overall skating.

Throughout the development of her program, there have been kids and parents who think that figure skating techniques won’t help them. Jones says overcoming this mindset is all about education.

“I get it all the time. ‘Oh, we’re doing the figure skating stuff again?’ and I just say, ‘Let’s knock that down. It’s skating, and at the end of the day, this is where you’re going to apply it.’ I’m very educational in my approach to my clients. I’m okay if they say things like that. I always open my sessions with ‘Ask me questions’. It may seem like you’re not going to use these techniques in a game, but I promise you, you will,” said Jones, who always demonstrates each drill to her students.

She came up with everything she teaches on her own based on experience as well as trial and error.

Jones said she has “100 per cent” seen a benefit to each player she has worked with.

“I was just on the ice with an athlete this morning,” Jones said. “He’s a very gifted hockey player and he’s had four or five sessions with me and I am proud of how quickly he’s adapted and how his mechanics have changed to better his stride, mechanics and his explosiveness. His first three steps are crazy now. Usually, athletes don’t adapt within five sessions. Sometimes it takes longer, you’re breaking old habits and you are introducing new skill acquisition.”

Next time you’re watching the Olympic figure skaters or you’re watching the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, remember that these worlds aren’t so far apart as you might think. If you look closely, NHL players are using figure skating techniques to better their own game.

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Ukrainian War Could Crush Hockey Dreams

They came to play a game they love and now they can’t return to the country they love.

When Marc McLaughlin from Pittsburgh, PA. took in two Ukrainian boys from Lviv, he had no idea that the Russian invasion of the Ukraine would extend their stay.

Vlad and Vitally have been living with Marc, his wife and their four other children since August 2021, when they arrived to further their hockey journeys.

McLaughlin says that the plan was for the boys to return to Ukraine in March after their Mid Tournament and finish school remotely but their school said that this wasn’t possible due to the evolving COVID laws. Two weeks later, the war between Russia and Ukraine started, resulting in the boys not being able to return home regardless.

Both Vitally and Vlad said that they miss their family back home but hope to remain in America with a little help. 

The McLaughlin family started a Go Fund Me program in hopes to raise money to help support the boys through this tough time and help them stay in Pittsburgh.

“There’s absolutely no problem with the school, except for the price, and even with the discount, It’s about $15,000 for both kids,” McLaughlin  said. “Each boys’ parents roughly spent $20,000 per kid last year to have them. So, we’re hoping to raise around that much. Their parents aren’t working. From what I understand, if the war ended today — which is highly unlikely — It would probably still take six months to a year for them to financially recover. 

“I bought them sticks, tons of food. I don’t mind. I’ll do anything I can, however, I have a limit because I have my own kid playing on the same team. I have a 11-year-old who plays. I also have an eight-year-old daughter and a three-year-old boy. So, I have two kids plus four kids playing hockey, basically.”

Vitally and Vlad only heard about the opportunity to study and play hockey in America from a coach a year before leaving their home. Both said that it was exciting to come to America, but it was also difficult.

“The first time it was so hard because I didn’t know English. I didn’t know people, like, I didn’t know, like everything here. But right now, I feel like so much better,” said Vitally.

McLaughlin says that both boys are “extremely” good players and that in America, Vitally had 45 goals in one season as a defenseman and in Ukraine he had over 300 in a season. 

“In Ukraine, hockey is not the best sport. The best sport in Ukraine. Is soccer, like just literally everybody plays,” says Vitally. ““Here we have like more teams, we have better players than in Ukraine.”

“We had Christmas for them. We wanted them to enjoy Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter Sunday. We love having them, we love it.”

“They’re part of the family now, and they’ve always been like super comfortable,” said McLaughlin, who added he is in contact with the boys’ parents every day.

“I just promised them that I’ll take care of them to the best of my ability. And that’s all I can do.”

To help support the boys and the McLaughlin family you can donate to the Go Fund Me page.

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Hockey Cares Opens Eyes Through Exchange Program

Hockey Cares goes beyond just hockey.

The True North Aid program was created in 2017 with the purpose of connecting youth through the love of hockey.

The program is an exchange between Oakville and Attawapiskat bantam hockey teams. Players from Attawapiskat travel to Oakville in July and youth from Oakville will fly up to Attawapiskat in November to learn about and experience a new culture and play hockey.

The program centres around players ages 13-15 and is designed so all players realize the importance of completing high school. Only four out of 10 Indigenous youth finish high school, compared to nine out of 10 non-Indigenous youth.

The program’s intent is to introduce Indigenous youth to the opportunities available to them in the Canadian ‘south’ so they can see the possibilities. Many of the players live in very remote areas and may never even see the world outside of their community.

The Hockey Cares Project also works with colleges and universities to not only show Indigenous youth the opportunities available to them, but also to introduce existing support networks provided by Indigenous people living in places like Oakville and the Greater Toronto area.

Founder Sue Heddle said that the program helps expose the Attawapiskat kids to post-secondary education opportunities.

“If they want to do post-secondary, there’s nothing near Attawapiskat, so they must leave, and when you live in a community of 1,700 people and you have to leave, it’s very stressful,” Heddle said. “We’re trying to form a backbone of support for them through meeting mentors, indigenous mentors from here, and families from here that can, can help them if they want to do post-secondary this year.”

But it is not just the players from Attawapiskat who benefit from the exchange.

“It’s an eye-opener for Oakville kids to go up north and to experience the beauty of James Bay and the stars,” Heddle said. “It is also an experience living where you can’t just get the water from the tap.

“Also there’s the crisis of teen suicide up there. So, by making friendships, these kids can talk to one another.”

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Learn more about Hockey Cares

To donate or discover more about the Hockey Cares program you can visit its website.

Jonathan and Leah from Oakville are past participants in the Hockey Care program. The players shared what it was like to be a part of the exchange.

“Until you go up and see a First Nations reserve, it doesn’t really click with you until you’ve experienced some of the conditions that they experienced, especially not having access to (clean drinking) water,” Jonathan said. “I really enjoyed making friendships and learning culture. But I think for me, what I took out of it was kind of the concept of privilege.”

“I thought it was really eye-opening for me to be able to see the privilege that I have and gain a new sense of like self-awareness. It makes me want to continue working with the program and further education on indigenous culture,” Leah said.

Attawapiskat’s Sabett Hookiman, who is also a past participant of the program, said that the highlight of the trip for her was meeting new friends at the group introduction barbeque and at the rink.

Jonathan said that he would recommend the program to anyone.

“I think anyone with interest in hockey, you must look into the program,” he said. “You should a hundred percent do it. You don’t realize how much it means until you do it”

“I agree, I wasn’t sure about the program  before I went,” Leah said.  “As you go through the program — especially when they came here — I thought it was really, cool. It was  one of the highlights of my summer. Then I returned the next year and I had looked forward to it like the whole year, because it was a great experience.”

Heddle says that working for CBC for 23 years and seeing all the disasters happening around the world, she started to notice that there are people in “our own backyards” who have inadequate housing or access to clean drinking water. She decided this is something that Canadians should be aware and she created Hockey Cares to shine a spotlight on the issues..

Heddle said that many of the kids that have been through the program remain in touch with each other via social media.

“We’d love to hear from them, and we will do our best to pair them with another community,” Heddle said. “This year we’re going to have someone from Calgary and someone from the neighboring community to Attawapiskat, coming to shadow so they can see how the program runs,” Heddle said.

Many youths have benefited from this program according to Heddle.

“The interesting thing is how it’s taken their life in a turn,” she said. “Some of them may have thought they were going down one path for their education and then suddenly, they’re saying, no, I’m really interested in indigenous studies, or I’m interested in environmental studies because I want to be able to help with the water.

“1It’s interesting how it’s changed their life, change their direction or their paths.”

It has certainly changed life for Heddle. She remains in contact with some kids from the program.

“I’m touched when kids reach out to me, they call me Mama Sue up there,” she said. “They reach out to me if they have a problem. I had one girl come out to me and didn’t know how to tell her parents. And you know, I felt honored that they trust me enough to come to me first with their problems.”

Anyone who is interested in learning more about the program or how they can help can visit the Hockey Cares website.

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Hockey Cares Opening Eyes Through Exchange

Hockey Cares goes beyond just hockey.

True North Aid was created in 2017 with the purpose of connecting youth through the love of hockey.

The program is an exchange between Oakville and Attawapiskat bantam hockey teams. Players from Attawapiskat travel to Oakville in July and youth from Oakville will fly up to Attawapiskat in November to learn about and experience a new culture and play hockey.

Founder Sue Heddle said that the program helps expose the Attawapiskat kids post-secondary education opportunities.

“If they want to do post-secondary, there’s nothing near Attawapiskat, so they must leave, and when you live in a community of 1,700 people and you have to leave, it’s very stressful,” Heddle said. “We’re trying to form a backbone of support for them through meeting mentors, indigenous mentors from here, and families from here that can, can help them if they want to do post-secondary this year.”

But it is not just the players from Attawapiskat who benefit from the exchange.

“It’s an eye-opener for Oakville kids to go up north and to experience the beauty of James Bay and the stars,” Heddle said. “It is also an experience living where you can’t just get the water from the tap.

“Also there’s the crisis of teen suicide up there. So, by making friendships, these kids can talk to one another.”

Jonathan and Leah from Oakville are past participants in the Hockey Care program. They shared what it was like to be a part of the exchange.

“Until you go up and see a First Nations reserve, it doesn’t really click with you until you’ve experienced some of the conditions that they experienced, especially not having access to (clean drinking) water,” Jonathan said. “I really enjoyed making friendships and learning culture. But I think for me, what I took out of it was kind of the concept of privilege.”

“I thought it was really eye-opening for me to be able to see the privilege that I have and gain a new sense of like self-awareness. It makes me want to continue working with the program and further education on indigenous culture,” Leah said.

Hockey Cares

Attawapiskat’s Sabett Hookiman, who is also a past participant of the program, said that the highlight of the trip for her was meeting new friends at the group introduction barbeque and at the rink.

Jonathan said that he would recommend the program to anyone.

“I think anyone with interest in hockey, you must look into the program,” he said. “You should a hundred percent do it. You don’t realize how much it means until you do it”

“I agree, I wasn’t sure about the program  before I went,” Leah said.  “As you go through the program — especially when they came here — I thought it was really, cool. It was  one of the highlights of my summer. Then I returned the next year and I had looked forward to it like the whole year, because it was a great experience.”

Heddle says that working for CBC for 23 years and seeing all the disasters happening around the world, she started to notice that there are people in “our own backyards” who have inadequate housing or access to clean drinking water. She decided this is something that Canadians should be aware and she created Hockey Cares to shine a spotlight on the issues..

Heddle said that many of the kids that have been through the program remain in touch with each other via social media.

“We’d love to hear from them, and we will do our best to pair them with another community,” Heddle said. “This year we’re going to have someone from Calgary and someone from the neighboring community to Attawapiskat, coming to shadow so they can see how the program runs,” Heddle said.

Many youths have benefited from this program according to Heddle.

“The interesting thing is how it’s taken their life in a turn,” she said. “Some of them may have thought they were going down one path for their education and then suddenly, they’re saying, no, I’m really interested in indigenous studies, or I’m interested in environmental studies because I want to be able to help with the water.

“1It’s interesting how it’s changed their life, change their direction or their paths.”

It has certainly changed life for Heddle. She remains in contact with some kids from the program.

“I’m touched when kids reach out to me, they call me Mama Sue up there,” she said. “They reach out to me if they have a problem. I had one girl come out to me and didn’t know how to tell her parents. And you know, I felt honored that they trust me enough to come to me first with their problems.”

Anyone who is interested in learning more about the program or how they can help can visit the Hockey Cares website.

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Green Armband Initiative Protects Young Officials

When Hockey Eastern Ontario (HEO) launched the green armband initiative in January 2020, its goal was to help shield young on-ice officials from verbal abuse hurled from the crowd and the benches.

The initiative states that all officials under the age of 18-years-old will wear a green armband that will indicate that they are minors.

In the HEO, there are officials as young as 14 years old and around 300 officials calling games that are minors. 

According to John Reid, HEO Referee-in-Chief, the idea came from a basketball team in Montreal.

“Umpires were kind of stuck behind the plate and it seems that group in Montreal have decided to do this green armband initiative to get parents and coaches to stop yelling at the minors,” said Reid.

“And one of the things was the umpiring is behind the plate, you can’t go anywhere.

“Whereas in hockey, you can skate to the other side of the rink, and you can move up and down the ice surface and you can kind of get away from things … when you’re behind the plate you are kind of stuck about people yelling at you.”

The initiative was brought in by the HEO as COVID restrictions lifted and the hockey season started up again. Reid says that it has been “tremendously” successful.

The green armbands do not affect the players on the ice as they are under the Canada Maltreatment rules, so it is simply just to benefit the officials under the age of 18 and could affect the coaches and parents. 

Parents would simply be asked to leave the rink if found yelling or mistreating an official that is wearing the green armband.

For coaching staff if they are found yelling at a young official their penalty will be doubled.

According to Reid there are posters indicating this and the rules about the initiative in all arenas in the HEO, so parents and coaches are aware of these rules

“The reality is they’ve really been given a heads up and a wakeup call,” said Reid.

Reid said it was very easy to get this initiative started and the HEO provided them with the funds to purchase the armbands.

“Our bands cost $6 each. They sent us off with a $2,000 fund to go ahead and purchase the armbands and then we distributed them through our 10 different district Referee in Chiefs,” said Reid.

Reid said there are officials as young as 14 refereeing AAA, under 18 hockey or junior hockey and the program has been very beneficial to them, even at such a high level. Not all the young officials wanted to wear the band.

“I think there’s one official in junior that wasn’t certain about wanting to wear the green armband, but at that point when they’re 17 and they’re officiating that high level, my argument back to them is you should be proud about wearing the green armband and being able to showcase yourself,” said Reid

The green armband initiative is starting to “catch” on according to Reid. He said there has been inquiries from Manitoba, BC, Alberta and Texas.

“I’m saying this is not just a harassment program that would be for hockey, but it to be incorporated into any sport,” said Reid.

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How Do I Tell My Son His Hockey Dream is Over?

The Mind Coach
Ask The Mind Coach is dedicated to the “mental” part of hockey from both player and parent perspectives. Shawnee Harle takes your questions and provides feedback based on her experiences and training. If you have a question to Ask The Mind Coach, email us!

“It feels like the dream is over for my son who wasn’t taken in his U16 draft. He doesn’t want to quit and is locked in on doing something in hockey at a high level but I don’t think he is good enough once I take my parent goggles off. We have had discussions about focussing on school and perhaps getting a job but he is determined to keep going,. He works harder than most kids but the talent just doesn’t match his effort level. What is the best way to tell my kid that his hockey dream is probably over?”

I suggest letting this play out a bit longer.

If you force him to quit, he may be resentful and blame you for squashing his dream.  Some athletes just won’t take NO for an answer and that’s not a bad thing.

It’s really difficult to let go of, or give up on a dream when investment is high.

“Those who invest the most are the last to surrender.”

If there aren’t any major disadvantages or life altering situations that will occur if he continues to chase his dream, let him keep chasing.  He has the rest of his life to work.  School should be a focus regardless.

In the end, the cream always rises to the top.

Give it more time.  At some point it will become obvious to him, one way or the other.

Shawnee is a two-time Olympian with 26 years of elite coaching and leadership experience. She is a Mental Toughness Coach and helps athletes of all ages gain a competitive edge, get selected to their dream team, earn that scholarship, and compete with COURAGE and CONFIDENCE when it matters most. And because it take a village, Shawnee also works with their parents. Learn more at shawneeharle.com

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Changing the Game For Women In Kazakhstan

The prototypical men’s hockey journey is one highlighted by consistency and support. Players start at a young age and have he opportunity to progress from visible league to more visible league, earning access to the best coaches and opportunities available, and benefitting from a family able to provide the time and means to ensure he’s able to chase his dreams. It’s like an escalator, of sorts, steadily elevating young hopefuls as high as their skill can take them

For Ms. Bulbul Kartanbay, her hockey journey was less like an escalator and more like a gruelling hike up Mount Kilimanjaro.

The 28 year old from Kazakhstan was never pushed to play the game through her youth, instead arbitrarily being assigned to Ice Hockey at 13 after attending a sports school where her preference of playing soccer was unavailable. 

She was never encouraged by her family to pursue her dream, with Kartanbay’s parents instead telling her to go to college and get married rather than trying to make it in a “man’s sport.” 

Bubul Kartanbay is helping other young women break into the game through the Women’s Hockey Academy in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s first female-focused hockey school.

And her career could hardly be called consistent, enduring multiple pauses and delays, including a lengthy hiatus from ages 18-21.

Even within her triumphs, Kartanbay found opposition. She was unable to join the Canadian Women’s Hockey League after being drafted by the Boston Blades at age 18 following four separate denials for an American work visa, and injury from a car accident cost her most of her only NWHL season in 2019-20.

Despite these setbacks, Kartanbay always found a way to not only persevere, but succeed. She has become one of the most notable women’s players in Kazakhstan, representing the country twice in the World Junior Cup at ages 16 and 17 as well playing in five World Cups from 2012 through 2019 and two Olympic qualifying tournaments. 

Kartanbay’s hockey prowess has taken her from the NWHL’s (now PHF) Metropolitan Riveters to Tomiris Astana of the Kazakh Women’s League, and she’s recently decided to use her stories and skills to help other young women break into the game through the Women’s Hockey Academy in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan’s first female-focused hockey school.

Kartanbay has represented her country numerous times on the international stage and has played pro hockey in North America.

Kartanbay’s Women’s Hockey Academy is making a huge contribution to building the game overseas, providing an opportunity for young girls where none previously existed.

In Kazakhstan, hockey is primarily considered a sport for men, and even though women are allowed to play, a deficit in organized youth teams, skilled coaches, and available ice (there are only five ice rinks in Kazakhstan’s capital of Nur-Sultan) means that their involvement and development within the sport are often minimized in favor of providing support to the country’s young men in the game. 

After returning in 2021, Kartanbay made it her goal to change the sports dynamic in her home country, and give young women both the chance and support in a place that seems content to leave their potential unrealized.

It all started when Kartanbay took part in hosting a charity hockey event for International Women’s Day, and found 12 Kazakh girls willing to participate within a 16-team children’s tournament. 

Realizing her ability to grow the game, Kartanbay started the Academy, with her mission immediately earning sympathizers. She was highlighted as one of Kazakhstan’s “100 New Faces” in 2021, and earned the trust and support of the Kazakhstani government after giving a speech to the President of the Kazakhstan Republic. 

Kartanbay would later meet with the Mayor of Nur-Sultan and the Kazakhstani Minister of Sports and Culture to discuss support for her initiative.

“They said that they will support me because the president supported me,” she says. “He told them and they did it for me.”

Since then, the success of Kartanbay and the Women’s Hockey Academy has been subjectively outstanding. 

Kartanbay was highlighted as one of Kazakhstan’s “100 New Faces” in 2021 for her work in growing the game of hockey.

In our interview, the current Tomiris Astana forward reported that there were only 171 professional female Kazakh players, while her academy was currently developing the skills of 75 young women ages 4-18, cultivating and ensuring the future of women in Kazakhstani hockey.

“What we did with the Women’s Hockey Academy … it’s really amazing,” Kartanbay said.

The Academy hosted open-door days in July of 2021 to allow those interested to see the possibilities of Kartanbay’s vision, and emphasizes the open collaboration she wants to foster within her program.

“My main goal is, first of all, move the national team to the capitol city,” she begins. “And then, involve more young coaches and coaches from other countries like Finland, US, Canada, to teach our players and community how to work. 

Bulbul Kartanbay’s initiative and fire to succeed may have started the ball rolling for girls hockey in Kazakhstan, but it is still an uphill battle.

Hockey is growing every day, every second. It’s new programs, new games, going faster. I also want to travel … there’s a lot of experience to exchange.”

Kartanbay’s passion for both the game and her ability to grow it are evident as she speaks. Her goals of creating a network to advance hockey within the country of Kazakhstan, especially for women, is not only noble, but revolutionary. 

Within a country that has not only failed to foster women in hockey, but actively discouraged them from participating, Bulbul Kartanbay’s initiative and fire to succeed have the power to change countless lives around her, providing an escalator to those who were never even shown the stairs.

With Astana, Kartanbay currently wears #99, made most famous by Wayne Gretzky. Some may call it sacrosanct, but it’s easy to see comparisons between the two if one looks close enough. 

Like Gretzky, Kartanbay is transforming and growing the game of hockey. The work she does through her Women’s Hockey Academy will have a positive impact not just on the girls she trains today, but on women in the game for generations to come in Kazakhstan.

girls hockey in Kazakhstan

HOW YOU CAN HELP

If you are interested in helping more girls play hockey in Kazakhstan through coaching exchanges, equipment donations and other contributions, please email kartanbayhockey@gmail.com

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Hockey Academies Opening Paths to Success

Each hockey season, the Banff Academy includes in its annual schedule, a session of tournament hockey to be played along the U.S. East Coast.

The purpose of this road trip for the Alberta school is twofold. First of all, the hockey academies in the New England area of the USA are among the finest and most traditional schools when it comes to prep hockey.

Secondly, the trip is also viewed as a fact-finding mission. It provides both players and parents who opt to make the journey the chance to check out some of the top hockey-playing universities in the USA.

“We take all the kids to Boston for a week and play in a tournament in New Hampshire,” explained Banff Academy head coach Garry Unger. “The parents would come and we’d go on college trips.

“We go to Harvard and Boston College and some Division II colleges.”

The chance to pursue higher education is playing a significant role in the growth and popularity of Canadian hockey academies. But in Western Canada, where hockey academies have exploded in popularity, it’s become the first choice for top players no matter which direction they hope to take in their hockey development.

“There’s now essentially an entire sports school/academy-based league that really has kind of taken over British Columbia and Alberta,” said Jay Tredway, athletic director at Ridley College in St. Catharines, Ont. It’s where the majority of (WHL) draft picks now come out of – these sports school-based systems.”

For those players in search of a scholarship to play college hockey at an NCAA school, the academy route is viewed as the ideal stepping stone along that path, especially among the Ontario academies and independent schools.

“Here it’s more of an NCAA bridge,” said Robb Serviss, head coach at the A21 Academy in Windsor, Ont. “St. Andrew’s (in Aurora, Ont.) had 12 NCAA commits last year on their roster.”

Players – and parents – are quickly discovering that college isn’t the only destination for which these academies can prove to be a solid starting-off point.

“Ridley College has OHL draft picks,” Serviss said. “They’re more half and half.”

Tredway believes that parents are coming to the realization that even if junior hockey is the ultimate goal, investing a couple of junior-eligible years at a hockey academy can actually prove more fruitful than jumping into the OHL at the age of 16 or 17.

“The good part for the student-athlete in hockey is there’s different pathways that are opening up,” Tredway said. “Schools like Ridley are there to help people who want to pursue that.

“One of the things that families have come to appreciate is that there’s going to be time to play junior hockey but what’s going to give you the best fundamental boost and the best developmental boost?”

If junior is the game plan, staying the course at Ridley, a boarding school, helps kids not only to improve on the ice, but also to excel in the classroom and grow accustomed to living a life away from home, learning vital time-management skills.

“It’s an opportunity to go somewhere where you’re not riding the bench behind a 20 year old,” Tredway said. “You’re playing full-on minutes all the time through.

“By the time you’re a 20-year-old and you’re in junior hockey, you’re ready to go. You’re already set.”

University, though, remains the first choice of destination for most students at schools such as Ridley.

“The students that choose Ridley, that’s what they’re pursuing primarily,” Tredway said of a college scholarship. “There are a lot of (OHL) draft picks in the mix with us but the majority of kids have chosen Ridley because they want to pursue post-secondary sport.

“The reality of hockey is that’s a year or two away. They may end up having to play (Tier II) junior until they’re 20 years old because their university is not going to want them right away. They’re not going to be freshmen at 18 or 19. They’re lucky if they’re freshmen at 20, and for some of them it’s 21.

“So, there’s this opportunity to have this development, this education-based development option that gets them to being an 18-year-old. And then, they still have two years of junior hockey to play before the university that wants them even wants them to show up on campus.”

Tredway looks at the world junior tournament, where USA Hockey has closed the gap and runs neck and neck with Hockey Canada most years, as a sign of the changing hockey landscape in terms of the development pipeline.

“You look at the rosters for those U.S. teams and it’s all college guys,” Tredway said. “It’s all guys that are either on the (USA Hockey) U18 development team, which is a pretty bespoke organization, or it’s university guys. And the Canadian team is made up of major junior guys and a couple of university guys.

“I think that’s where you’re going to see changes. People are learning that the educational pathway is not hurting their development at all. In fact, it may be giving lots of other upside that maybe people hadn’t been paying attention to before.”

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Hockey Scouts Offer Advice to Parents

In this series on amateur hockey scouting, we compiled responses from 20 different hockey scouts and coaches that scout representing NHL, OHL, CJHL and NCAA teams about their unique job. Many wished to remain anonymous, which we allowed in order to get more candid responses to our questions.
These hockey scouts come from varying backgrounds, ranging from former players — from the NHL, junior and college ranks — to former coaches, including some with limited hockey playing experience. Believe it or not, there is even a former referee. Some have been a hockey scout for over 30 years and others only a couple.

In talking to hockey scouts for this series, it is clear that they all have stories of finding particular players or seeing late bloomers blossom. It’s no wonder then that the advice most scouts offered to hockey parents centred around patience and enjoying each and every moment of the journey. 

One CHL coach said, “Don’t rush the process and understand that your son/daughter are the one driving the bus, not you! Support your children in every way imaginable but be a parent first and always. Please do not put sport ahead of all other life priorities.” 

“Do not get caught up with the “right path” because there is none,” another NCAA coach said. “I’ve seen 14 year olds considered NHL locks that never make it and I’ve seen 19 year olds that were told they could never play Division 1 hockey make the NHL.”

“Have your kids do what they love, support their goals and enjoy the ride. “ 

A CHL scout/coach said, “Players develop at different rates and in different settings. To improve, a kid needs to play. Minutes are more important than the level or league they play at. Development requires teaching thus the importance of coaching can never be overlooked.”

Finally, the scouts were asked if they offer advice to hockey parents and if it bothers them when someone at the rink asks questions?

One scout said, “Absolutely not. I enjoy talking to the parents and spectators, but wait until the end of a period or the end of the game.  If you see me and you have a question, I always like to talk about hockey and most scouts would feel the same.”

Amateur Hockey Scouting

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