Prairie Hockey Academy re­flects on amaz­ing sea­son

Moose Jaw - - Sports - Randy Palmer Moose Jaw Ex­press

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. for more in­for­ma­tion.

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