As important as the action on the ice is for the Drumheller Dragons, so is having their nose in the books.
Junior A hockey offers opportunities for players, but a big part of their success is not only taking care of business in the corners, but also making sure their education allows them to take advantage of these opportunities. Retired teacher and hockey fan Dave Wood is assisting these players achieve their educational goals.
“I have to give (coach) Kevin Hasselberg a lot of credit because he is a very strong supporter of education, and that has made my job easier and more difficult,” said Dragons education coordinator Dave Wood. “Easier in the sense that I have his support and he laid the law down for some guys when they struggle academically. He tells them ‘your purpose here is schooling first, hockey second.’”
“It also has made my job harder in the sense that I put in more time now, but it is a good thing because they are here for hockey and education.”
Hockey offers young player’s many opportunities including a road to the NCAA to play hockey for an American college, and the Dragons have seen players go to schools from Alaska to Quinnipiac. While sometimes this is held up as the Holy Grail for Junior A players, Wood says there are many great opportunities for players in Canada.
“The NCAA is getting to be harder and harder as the US gets more involved in hockey,” said Wood. “There are still opportunities out there.”
“You don’t just look at getting a scholarship offer from a school, it has to be the right offer… it has to be a school that has credentials, it has to be where your education is going to be worth something in Canada, you have to weigh those things, as well as being away from home. It has to be a centre you are going to be comfortable with, so there are a lot of factors there.”
“CIS Hockey is excellent hockey that can match NCAA in a lot of cases, and you are getting a Canadian university degree, which is going to have merit.”
“I certainly don’t ever downplay the Canadian education system at all.”
Other teachers including Shannon Dart have assisted Wood along the way. Lynn Hemming also works with Dragons. Their job is to make sure the students are performing well so education does not become a barrier. It is important to know what the colleges and universities expect and then making sure the students tailor their education to fit.
“In August I meet with every high school level kid and see what courses they want. And then I get the schedule from the school and we set out a schedule that works for them,” said Wood. “The other guys I encourage them to take university courses, or if they are upgrading high school, they come to study hall. I try to get the transcripts from all of them.”
He says he reports almost weekly to the coach on how the players are performing in class.
The league is taking education seriously and last week introduced the Inter Pipeline AJHL All Academic Team. Derrick Budz of the Dragons was named to the squad.
“We are proud to support the dreams and goals of these young athletes,” says Chris Bayle, President and CEO of Inter Pipeline. “Being able to recognize their dedication to athletic excellence and academic achievement is a privilege.”
Wood says Budz had already graduated before he came to Drumheller, so he cannot claim credit, nonetheless, he holds Budz’s achievement in high regard.
“He is a very motivated kid and I am glad to see him performing on the ice,” said Wood.
Wood finds his work with the Dragons rewarding. “It is my two passions, hockey, and education, what more could you want?” he said.