February 20th, 2020

School still top of mind at U-17 hockey challenge

By RYAN MCCRACKEN on November 8, 2019.


Hockey isn’t the only challenge players are facing this week in Medicine Hat and Swift Current.

Given that everyone competing at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge is enrolled in high school, Hockey Canada has made a point of ensuring its players remain focused on every task at hand – from the battle for global supremacy to the quest for knowledge.

“There’s a dedicated time slot, two hours on off-days, for study hall to make sure they’re either staying on top (of their studies) or even getting ahead for some,” said Canada White head coach Sylvain Favreau, adding all three of Canada’s teams held five study sessions over the course of the tournament. “Each academic advisor from the CHL teams or their club teams, wherever they’re from, will make sure that they’re sent with homework and proper projects that they’re working on. Then they get support here during the tournament with counsellors that come into our hotel.”

It’s a big endeavour, one requiring support from teachers in various subjects and two different languages. Medicine Hat Tigers education advisor Gary McDougall was tasked with putting together that team, but says it wasn’t hard to find local teachers willing to volunteer their time for the cause.

“Hockey Canada gave me the times but I needed to find tutors for that, so I approached Medicine Hat High, Crescent Heights High School, McCoy and also Eagle Butte. Out of that a bunch of people responded, then I had to go through and they had to get police checks done. Out of the whole group I had 10 teachers respond,” said McDougall. “It’s absolutely wonderful. They were so happy to come out and a lot of them didn’t really understand what goes on behind the scenes with these hockey players and the education that goes on. But Hockey Canada, as well as the Western Hockey League, we believe that these kids have to keep up their studies.”

Canadian Hockey League players are no stranger to the difficulty of balancing school with a major junior schedule, but Canada White defenceman Oscar Plandowski says accomplishing the task at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge would be even more daunting without the organized efforts of those volunteer teachers.

“I was actually on a road trip in Quebec the week before I came here, so I’ve been out of school for a while. But I’ve been able to stay on task,” said Plandowski, a 16-year-old member of the QMJHL’s Charlottetown Islanders. “They’re awesome with the teachers and all that they’re bringing in.

“Hockey Canada is staying on us. We’ll have our mandatory study sessions and it’s really helpful to stay on task and do the work that I got assigned before (the tournament).”

Hat High English teacher Tammy Vaari is well aware of the pressures these players face, as six Medicine Hat Tigers are enrolled in her classes this semester – including Canada White centre Cole Sillinger. Vaari was one of the local teachers who stepped up to contribute at Hockey Canada’s study sessions, which allowed her to work 1-on-1 with Sillinger through his two weeks outside of the classroom.

“I thought it was important that I be there to at least give him that support for the work I sent him with,” she said. “For me, it was a well-used period of time. I was able to work 1-on-1 with Cole. I was able to get him through the work that I needed him to have completed for when he comes back on Monday. So, it was a very positive experience for me, and I think for Cole as well.”

Vaari has been working alongside the Tigers for the past decade and says they always prioritize the importance of a good education, and tend to produce hard working young men both on the ice and in the classroom.

“They’re hard working, they are dedicated. I work with them, they work with me in managing their time and getting assignments completed. The team as well has been really great in arranging extra time, so that I can connect with them,” said Vaari. “It’s a really good organization and Hockey Canada is committed to making sure that these kids are getting their school. School is important, not just the hockey.”

Dylan Guenther – a 16-year-old Edmonton Oil Kings winger playing for Canada White at the tournament – agreed it’s incredibly important to stay on top of your homework through the season. While he came to Medicine Hat for a medal, Guenther says he’s thankful for everyone who stepped up to help further his education along the way.

“To be able to have tutors with us, just to know you won’t fall behind and you’ll stay on track is super nice,” said Guenther. “You’ve got to keep on track.”

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