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Prep Hockey

by Tate Harris on Feb. 20, 2019
The head coach an Ontario prep school hockey team believes the school’s program offers a new route for people in the province to reach higher levels of hockey.  
 
A21 Academy is a prep school in Windsor, Ont. that offers sports development combined with university-based education. Students on the U-18 hockey team begin their school day with an on-ice practice with head coach Robb Serviss.
 
“A program like this is really geared towards development,” Serviss said. “Kids are getting 500 hours of on and off ice development with SAT prep on the academic side.”  
 
The majority of players in Ontario play minor hockey at the AA and AAA levels before making a jump to a junior league like the OHL. Canada’s west coast has seen the opposite where prep schools have become a top option for players. Serviss, who previously coached the Netherlands international program, believes Ontarians are looking for something different from the typical route.  
 
“People are looking for something different,” said Serviss. “There are different pathways whether it’s OHL or NCAA, and I think people are starting to think long term.” 
 
A21 plays in the Prep School Hockey Federation, a league with 14 teams from schools in Ontario and Quebec. Meanwhile the Canadian Sport School Hockey League in British Columbia and Alberta (provinces with only 40 per cent of the population of Ontario and Quebec) has 22 teams.  
 
Andrew Sykes, owner and Director of Scouting for thescout.ca, said the growth of hockey prep schools in Ontario comes with their success. 
 
“It should definitely continue to grow as each one [school that comes along finds success, granted it is well run and gets a positive word-of-mouth going,” said Sykes. “Those with the financial means to attend will certainly welcome the notion of getting on the ice with the frequency that these prep schools provide, along with the educational benefits.”  
 
The idea of success breeding growth is evident when looking at the CSSHL (or Canadian Sport School Hockey League) which has had 29 students from their league drafted to the NHL since 2012 including Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba. Shattuck St. Mary’s, the most notable hockey prep school in the United States, has 19 active players in the NHL including stars like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Towes.     
 
Sykes however said he still believes AAA is the best option for players in Ontario during their OHL draft year. He finds prep schools will be beneficial the year after the draft for players who did not make it to the OHL.  
 
“With fewer places left to play at a high level when you are 16 and 17, a prep school becomes a great option,” said Sykes.  “With the addition of the OHL Under-18 Priority Selection, Midget AAA remains the top option for 16 and 17-year-old players, but the well-established prep schools, such as St. Andrew's in Aurora, attract high-end talent in those age groups.” 
 
The A21 Academy’s U18’s hockey program is only in its second year and still building as an establishment. Riley Pawluck, a student at A21, said the program is great and looks up to the players in the NHL that have taken the same route.  
 
“It’s inspirational,” said Pawluck. “You see all the people that have moved on and have great careers in the NHL and you hope you’ll be able to pull it off some day.”
 
With continued growth, A21 may one day produce an NHL player, but even for the students who do not make it to the next level, their education will still provide them with many opportunities.  
 
“Anybody that is coming in realizes it’s high academics in combination with elite athletic development,” said Serviss. “It’s an all-in package.”