When Dax MacLean attended the Notre Dame Hockey Academy in Saskatchewan back in 1993, he dreamed about doing something similar back home in New Brunswick.
“I went out there for two years and I loved the whole concept of just a place where you just went to develop as a hockey player, and then you went to school,” MacLean said.
After three years of building the program, the Miramichi native, along with his Champions Hockey co-founder, Stacey Smallman, have had their hockey development dreams come to fruition.
Thanks to a partnership with the Christian Academy, located on Fredericton’s north side, an under-16 boys team is now gearing up for a rigorous schedule in the North American Prep Hockey League.
MacLean and Smallman have been running Champions Hockey as a skills and drills program in Fredericton since 2007. It has grown from 15 children to multiple programs for all ages.
MacLean and Smallman want their new hockey academy to be about more than just business – they want it centred on the young players. Over three years of development, they kept asking themselves the same question.
“If we were going to do this for our own kids, how would we want this to be?” said MacLean.
Both Champions Hockey principals have had sons growing up playing hockey – from minor hockey all the way to the NHL in Smallman’s case. They wanted to provide the opportunity to keep young players closer to home, avoiding the move to Ontario, Quebec or out West in order to realize their dreams.
“It’s more about getting these kids developed and keeping them in their own home province, or even their hometown for some of them, to be able to play here and develop here,” said MacLean.
The academy is starting with a U16 boys team, comprised not only of New Brunswickers but players from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Vermont. This year is crucial to the 2007-born cohort as this is their draft year for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Some players have also set their sights on National Collegiate Athletic Association Hockey in the United States and hope the exposure from league play in the U.S. will help get them there.
“We’ll play about a 55 to 60 game schedule,” said MacLean. ”Within that schedule, we’re going to be in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Nova Scotia.”
Down the road, MacLean and Smallman hope to have U-16, U-17 and U-18 boys and girls teams, all while keeping their ultimate focus on player development on and off the ice.
The U-16 boy’s team has been training for just over a month now, according to Matt Ferdinand, a forward at the academy. They have made one trip so far.
“I am very happy with the outcome of our first showcase,” he said.
“Going down to Boston to play all these American teams and beating three out of four of them was a great experience. That is the first of many to come, I think our team feels the same way.”
This article was published in partnership with the Local Reporting, Global Media class at St. Thomas University and The Aquinian, St. Thomas University’s official student publication.