Part two of two
Junior hockey players have a variety of responsibilities, not the least of which is performing well on the ice and in the classroom.
Balancing just those two demands is tricky, but the B.C. Hockey League’s Alberni Valley Bulldogs make a point of helping their Junior A players succeed educationally.
The Bulldogs’ roster is full of players who likely would be playing elsewhere were it not for the team’s strong commitment to their education.
“Obviously, you notice it’s a strong program, and your parents want you to go there,” captain Eric Margo said in a recent interview outside the team dressing room at the Alberni Valley Multiplex.
“It helps you out with deciding where you want to go (to play),” added the five-foot-nine, 185-pound left winger from North Vancouver.
“When I was being recruited by the Bulldogs, our coaching staff mentioned this (education), and essentially they’re preparing you for college by giving you an education as well as hockey,” said Quinn Syrydiuk, a six-foot, 172-pound centre from Toronto.
“That was a big perk in coming here, definitely.”
Defenseman Paul Meyer from Edina, Minn., agrees.
“Education is a big part of it, just coming up here and being able to take a class and get something out of the way to be ready for the future is definitely a big part,” stated the six-four, 206-pounder.
What happens if players don’t make it to the National Hockey League?
“We have realistic goals while we’re shooting for the stars, and all of us want to have a backup plan,” Margo said. “It’s really good to put education first so you have doors open for you in the future. That’s what we like here.”
Syrydiuk noted that many young players don’t necessarily expect to make the NHL.
“A lot of Junior A hockey is the goal to get a scholarship, to get your education paid for, so that’s the route a lot of guys go,” he said.
While the organization is succeeding in the classroom, the trio acknowledged the Bulldogs could be doing better in the standings. They’re currently in last place in the BCHL Island Division.
“We’ve definitely had our ups and downs,” Margo admitted. “We’re rebuilding, trying to rise up from the ranks. We’re at the bottom of the standings right now but we’re trying to get better. I think we’re taking steps forward but we just have to more consistently take steps forward.”
“Like Eric said, we’re taking steps forward and we just have to keep building on each game,” Syrydiuk added. “I think, collectively, we’ve improved since the beginning of the year. We just have to keep going forward here.”
Meyer echoed their comments.
“They both kind of hit it on the head. We’ve been going up and down, taking one step forward and one step back. You start learning how to be consistent with your play and just rising to the occasion when we do play well.”
Regardless of pressure to rise in the standings, team educational adviser Tom McEvay stressed the Bulldogs’ management is committed to educational excellence.
“The coaches are very clear: if you’re not cutting the mustard in your classes, you may not be getting ice time,” he said. “You may not be playing.”
The Bulldogs have earned a widespread reputation for their educational focus.
Due to his extensive background as a high-level hockey player and an educator, McEvay understands the pressure on young players to focus on things besides skating, shooting, passing and checking.
“These young men have a lot of demands on their time,” he stated.
“There’s public appearances. They’re in billet families, and billet families have their own lives.
“They do travel with the organization (Bulldogs), and it’s easy to let it get away from you.”
It’s especially difficult when players are uprooted, as they usually are, to play far from home and the support system to which they are accustomed.
“I know that things can go sideways when you move away from your home and away from your hometown, and mom and dad are not there and in the hockey world coaches are busy trying to put winning teams on the board, and it becomes a business,” said McEvay.
On behalf of the Bulldogs, he works closely with Samantha Banton-Smith, a North Island College counsellor, to support the players.
“For a lot of the young men, it’s a first time away from home, so it’s a lot of transition,” she explained. “That’s where it is nice to have the support of Tom in their lives.”
Banton-Smith also does some counselling with players. NIC instructors, she said, “go above and beyond because of the unique lives of the players. These are individuals who have a hundred things on their mind, other priorities, and so we do our best to support their goals at the college and in life.”