Prairie Hockey Academy reflects on amazing season
When the Prairie Hockey Academy officially kicked off their inaugural season last fall, there were plenty of factors up in the air.
How would the players respond and the team perform? Would they be able to be competitive in their first year? Would things improve to the point that the team could be recognized as a premier program in Western Canada?
The answer to all of that has turned out to be a resounding ‘yes’. And in many cases almost to the point of disbelief – PHA fielded an Elite 15 team for the 2017-18 season and played a barnstorming schedule of games against a wide field of competition. There were some losses early, but by the end of their playing schedule, they were going toe-to-toe and shift-for-shift with Midget-aged teams.
And that’s not even touching on their work in the classroom and improvement as individuals – all things that PHA president Justin Simpkins hoped would come to fruition quickly when the program was launched.
“It was a great season, on the ice and off the ice we saw incredible development from all our student athletes, lots of buy in and excitement,” Simpkins said. “Our season of games is over, but we’re still training every day until June, so it’s an opportunity for development time that a lot of other guys who aren’t in the academy get. Our guys get a chance to keep growing.” The obvious highlight of the campaign was when it was announced that the PHA had been accepted into the Canadian Sport School Hockey League, a western-Canada-wide league of academy schools that has become a breeding ground for some of the top Western Hockey League and college players in the country.
“We’d really hoped for that,” Simpkins said. “I didn’t know what we’d see as far as development on the ice, but credit to the great group of young men who came together and their dedication to following the process, every day they’re getting better and have come a long way. Because of their development and the time and staff we have with the team overall, our actions have spoken very loudly. There’s still some meaningful hockey to be played, too – the team will be well represented in the SaskFirst Bantam and Midget spring tournaments in Regina during the Apr. 12 weekend.
“That’ll say a lot about our program, I expect people will really notice them,” Simpkins said.
Planning is already underway for next season, with the team having a handful of players committed and having sent out offers to other prospects. As their inaugural foray into the CSSHL, excitement is already starting to build.
“The league itself is pretty prestigious and well-known,” Simpkins said. “We’ve been given the opportunity to serve players in Saskatchewan and keep them local, as opposed to having them leave the province to get into that league.” There’s also the WHL Bantam Draft coming up on May 3, with plenty of interest from scouts and general managers coming the PHA’s way since the start of the season.
“I hope some of our young men are being rewarded for all their work they put in,” Simpkins said. “Academically and character-wise, our guys are second to none; they have really strong performances in the classroom and their play on the ice speaks for itself, too... If you ever get a chance to talk to one of our players, I just find in their maturity, they’ve really grown in that area and they’re starting to understand what it means to make tough decisions and be leaders. I think it’ll bode well for them, for sure.”
The 2018-19 season will kick off following the Labour Day long weekend in September, with players beginning the new school year. The Prairie Hockey Academy is currently taking entries for the second annual Royden Taylor Golf Classic fundraising tournament, set for Monday, July 9 at the Hillcrest Sports Centre.
All funds from the event will go to the team’s scholarship fund program to help families who are sending their student athletes to the academy.
“That weekend, we’ll probably get our team together that’s committed for next year, have a meet-and-greet, have a barbecue and get together and meet some of the sponsors, too,” PHA president Justin Simpkins said. “It was a lot of fun last year and we’re hoping it’ll be the same this year.”
A total of 122 players took part in the inaugural event, with Simpkins anticipating a near sell-out this year.
Anyone interested in registering for the event or becoming a sponsor can check https://www. prairiehockey.ca/golf for more information.