The 17th annual Hockey Canada Skills Academy seminar was unlike any of the previous 16, but the messaging didn’t change – the connection between athletics and academics is an important one
Last week, for the 17th time, Hockey Canada welcomed delegates from across
the country to its annual Hockey Canada Skills Academy (HCSA) seminar.
This year, though, as has become the norm in the COVID-19 world, things
were a little bit different.
Instead of filling a conference room with program leaders, the seminar went
virtual for the first time with a record-setting 149 delegates (a typical
year is around 100) watching 10 presentations – focused on both on-ice and
classroom curriculum – across two-and-a-half days.
And while the face-to-face connection that is usually such a key piece of
the seminar was missing, the messaging didn’t miss a beat.
“I was kind of hesitant – was it not going to be engaging, was it going to
be kind of dry – but I found every speaker we had, their passion radiated
through the screen,” says Janelle Forcand, female hockey coordinator with
the Winnipeg Jets Hockey Academy and an instructor with the St.
James-Assiniboia HCSA. “You know they’re truly doing it for the right
reasons. It helps us as instructors and teachers to realize we are making a
difference in the game of hockey. And not only just with making better
hockey players; we are making more well-rounded individuals. We are
developing these youth to go out into society and be great people.”
The move online created a unique opportunity to open the seminar up; by
welcoming in more delegates than usual, it allowed the information to be
delivered straight to those who need it most.
Instead of just one attendee per HCSA program, as has been the norm in
previous years, and that person taking the information back to the rest of
their staff, there was a direct link that hadn’t previously existed.
“Our programs don’t just have one person on the ice leading sessions,” says
Teal Gove, manager of hockey development with Hockey Canada who helps
spearhead the HCSA program at a national level. “Some programs have five,
10 different instructors and coaches, so for them to be able to get that
information first-hand and get a full two-and-a-half days of professional
development to bring back directly to their schools, we were so excited to
be able to offer that to all programs.”
“To see how successful it can be virtually, once it can be back in person
you can potentially have it as a virtual option as well for those people
who may not be able to be there in person, or may not have the proper
funding to be able to send someone to Calgary,” Forcand adds. “The more
people you can reach out to and educate, the more successful you program is
going to be.
“Looking at the positive from a negative outcome, we couldn’t be all
together in person, but here we are seeing it can be successful virtually.
Maybe we can adapt and do both – we can have it in person while people are
in their hometowns watching virtually, and reaching out to as many
educators as possible.”
The HCSA program is a unique one in that it caters to players of all ages
and skill levels. According to Gove, somewhere around 20% of the 5,500
students enrolled the 154 programs from coast to coast to coast during the
2019-20 school year don’t play the game outside of the HCSA.
That makes their experience, both on an off the ice, that much more
“Their first time touching the ice and experiencing hockey is through the
Skills Academy program,” she says, “so it’s really important that we
provide our instructors with the tools to be able to support those
new-to-hockey players, especially in making sure that their first
experience with hockey is a safe, fun and positive one.”
That was the message from keynote speaker Andrew Ference on Thursday night.
Ference, a Team Canada alumnus and Stanley Cup champion, works with the NHL
as director of social impact, growth and fan development under executive
vice-president Kim Davis.
“He talked about the role that some of his former teachers played in his
life, and he just emphasized to the teachers the impact that they can have
on their students, and that hockey should be fun,” Gove says. “Yes, skill
development is so important, but it needs to be fun.
“And he talked about, too, that we can’t just say we’re a welcoming
environment and everyone is welcome here, and then not go out and
intentionally bring those kids in that we want to attract to hockey. Our
schools and our teachers play a huge role in making sure that everyone is
At the end of the days, while the information gleaned from 11-and-a-half
hours of presentations is invaluable to teachers and instructors, the
biggest takeaway Gove wanted delegates to leave with was a pretty simple
“The impact that they have on the lives of their students. We heard this
reiterated a few times throughout presentations – the rink should be a
destination, and for a lot of students, coming to the Hockey Canada Skills
Academy program is the most exciting and fun and positive part of their
school day. We want teachers to take away the role that they play in making
the academic experience of their students such a positive one through