Daphne Neal leads Grade 6 and 7 students from J.A. Laird in a drill as part of the school's Hockey Academy.

Daphne Neal leads Grade 6 and 7 students from J.A. Laird in a drill as part of the school's Hockey Academy.

Hockey Academy pays off for students

It's not your typical phys ed program, but J.A. Laird's Hockey Academy is finding popularity.

It’s not your typical phys ed program, but J.A. Laird’s Hockey Academy is finding popularity not just with Invermere’s minor hockey set, but also kids who want a chance to pack a bit more fitness into their school day.

Now in its second year, the Hockey Academy program brings two classes of students in Grades 4 to 6 to the Eddie Mountain Memorial rink two days a week through the season for skill development and skate training. Developed by Hockey Canada, the curriculum is used in more than 100 schools nationwide.

Originally started at David Thompson Secondary School, where it continues to run, the program was expanded at the request of players and parents at a time when Laird was also looking to add more physical activity to its programming. “It just fit really well,” says lead coach and DTSS teacher Daphne Neal. “The Hockey Academy isn’t just about hockey, it’s about physical fitness and lifelong fitness.”

While it attracts many minor hockey players, Neal says there’s also a large number of kids who don’t otherwise play the sport signing up. In the older Grade 5/6 class, about 30 per cent of students don’t play organized hockey. In the younger Grade 4/5, there are even more, as well as a high number of girls showing interest.

“Hockey is a sport in our community that you have to travel quite a bit for. I think a lot of kids may want to play but don’t have the opportunity for various reasons,” says Neal. “This gives them the opportunity of trying something that they wouldn’t otherwise do.”

The opportunity for increased fitness also attracts some, like Avery Ullyot-Comrie, 12, who joined the program this year. Intrigued by hockey, she also hoped it would help with her performance on the ski hill. So far, it’s paying off.

“Most definitely it’s helped me run faster, work harder and do everything to the maximum,” she says.

For minor hockey players like Evan Prosser, 12, it’s also beneficial.

“I was in (Hockey Academy) last year and it really helped me with my skills, so I decided to do it again,” he says, adding he’s noticed his skating has gotten faster through the training. “And it’s extra ice time, and I love being on the ice.”

The hockey portion of the program runs until March break, though the class stays together throughout the school year.