The Hockey Canada Skills Academy (HCSA) debuted at Miramichi Valley High School in Miramichi, N.B., in September – and fortunately COVID-19 did not cast a measurable shadow over the program’s rookie campaign.
“We were able to run a program essentially like COVID-19 was never even here,” says Brett Cameron, the HCSA lead at the school.
Unlike other provinces and territories across the Great White North, activities operated within the New Brunswick education system were essentially unaltered by the year-old pandemic thanks to the success of local mitigation and the Atlantic Canada bubble.
This fortuitous reality meant HCSA students enrolled in Cameron’s program – all French Immersion students – had the green light to complete the 20 hours of minor hockey volunteer coaching required to attain their Coach 2 – Coach Level certification from the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP).
Cameron beams that his class was full of “high fliers” as many students were proactive in sourcing coaching positions and many displayed initiative by supporting teams beyond the 20-hour requirement.
“We had kids who chose to work with younger siblings or cousins in the [Under-7] and [Under-9] programs and there were other kids who helped with kids in the [Under-15] level. We had students across all of the minor hockey categories, including five who helped my U11 program.”
Grade 9 student Madeline Landry, who has played the game since she was eight, mentored her cousin Gabriel Landry and his U13 Miramichi Minor Hockey Club teammates. She says the focus on skills during HCSA classes armed her with the ability to help students struggling with drills.
“I found out very quickly that I could notice where certain players needed help with particular aspects of drills or exercises. I would go take them aside and say, ‘Try this’ or I would talk to them in a certain way so they can better understand the drill.”
Landry was also able to take the drills she learned under Cameron and other instructors and turn around and teach those drills herself. She says she is keen on adding more drills to her toolkit going forward as a coach.
Max Jardine, a 10th grader who says the addition of the HCSA to his school was “like a dream come true,” says learning about coaching represented an aspect of the program that most excited him, as he wishes to coach in the future. He lent his coaching services to the Miramichi U13 AAA Rivermen, a team he once played for.
“I remember the excitement of older kids being at practice, so I was mindful of setting a good example – I know that there is always someone watching. I want to give back to my community because so many people along the way has given to me as coaches.
“And all the kids were wonderful to work with as they didn’t brush you off when you spoke to them one-on-one. They were focused on what you had to say and determined to get better.”
Jardine says he excels in communicating systems of the game, such as power-play and penalty-killing schemes, but he looks forward to taking more coaching programs to elevate his knowledge to an even higher plane.
Cameron says his students enjoying the coaching aspect of the Miramichi HCSA program – he and Jardine both praise principal Shawn Wood for the academy being instituted – will only spell good things for the New Brunswick coaching pipeline.
“The earlier you can start the process of developing coaches, the more quality and qualified individuals Hockey Canada and New Brunswick will have in its ranks. When these kids are 20, 22, 25 or whatever age they are done their own pursuits in the game, they’ll already have this base of knowledge. So often in minor hockey the coaches are parents who don’t think they’re qualified. If you get kids qualified before ending high school, you will have people who can step into coaching with confidence.”
High school students in New Brunswick are tackling the 2020-21 school year in a hybrid format; they alternate between in-school and remote learning. The HCSA students tackled the theoretical components of the Coach 2 program at home.
Cameron says he is grateful for the support and resources he received from both Hockey New Brunswick executive director Nic Jansen and Teal Gove, the manager of player development and national HCSA lead for Hockey Canada.