Doug Dean with his now taller son Steven during a 2016 post-game, get together in Penticton. Mark Brett/Western News

Academy produces more than hockey players

Okanagan Hockey Academy builds character on and off the ice

Hockey or aerospace engineering?

Those are the rather unusual choices facing a Swiss teen who graduates this year from Pen High and the Okanagan Hockey Academy (OHA).

Steven Dean, 17, has spent the last three years in the OHA program as part of a competitive hockey “career” which has spanned more than a decade and nearly 500 games in multiple countries. He actually attended his first week-long camp here in the summer of 2011 and kept coming back.

But before next season/semester Dean, who finished up as an associate captain with the OHA’s midget varsity team, must decide whether it’s off to university, for an education he hopes will lead to a career with NASA, or back to the rink. He currently has five try out camps in B.C. and Alberta on the agenda in the coming months, as well as applications to three Canadian universities. He may even opt for a combination of both.

“It’s pretty hard, I want play hockey because I love it so much but I also want to get started on my schooling, that’s where my future will be,” said Dean in a telephone interview from Switzerland where he is spending some rare family time during spring break. “It’s definitely been a great experience. At first it was a little tough to move so far away from home but I really wanted to play hockey and the best hockey in the world is in Canada.

I thought if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right.”

According to his father Doug, who grew up in Kelowna and eventually moved to Europe, the decision to let his 14-year-old son move 10,000 kilometres from home was not an easy one as he is gone from August to June with just a few weeks home during Christmas and spring break. The pair stay in close contact via email, text and Skype.

“Fortunately he is fairly robustly constituted, so he stayed focused at school and did well, and socially he was happy and adapted to the academy life and being on the road a lot. He also lived with a really caring billet family and the parents were very good about keeping us updated on his life and progress and problems.”

Initially for Steven the excitement of the move to Penticton and being able to play as much hockey as he wanted took precedence over being so far away from home. It really hit him when returning for Christmas the first year he was away.

“I considered not going back to the OHA for another two years but I got over that and so at the end of the day I decided I need to make the sacrifices and being away from my parents was one of those things.

It was definitely a tough decision but I think I’ve matured a lot as a person, aside from the hockey. I see myself as a little more independent because I can’t always ask mom and dad to do it, I have to go out and do it myself.”

Going into Grade 10 at Pen High was also a bit of a culture shock for the 15 year old who had exclusively gone to private schools in Europe.

“Everyone at Pen High has provided such good support to make sure I fit in and make it through.”

And what he has seen in his son in terms of personal and physical growth (to Doug’s dismay Steve is now taller than he is) dad said: “Somewhere along the line he stopped being a little boy and became a young man.

“There have been immense changes and all positive. We are delighted with the results and more importantly I think Steve is as well.”

For Steven, his future remains up in the air but whether that means in space or on the ice, either way he will be ready.


Steve Dean (centre) finished his Okanagan Hockey Academy program as associate captain of the midget varsity team this season. Mark Brett/Western News