It was 18 years ago that Larry Lund and Andy Oakes started the first hockey academy for Okanagan Hockey Group, and in their wildest dreams they would have never thought they would be opening their fifth.
“In business, a lot of the times it is the simplest of concepts that become the most successful,” said Oakes, president and director of Okanagan Hockey Group. “We originally were looking at the education system and the hockey system and wondering why aren’t they together? From a student-athlete level we wanted to find a way to put those experiences together.”
The latest addition will be based in Whitby, Ont. in 2018-2019, and will host camps and combines in summer of 2018. It will be Okanagan Hockey Group’s first Eastern Canadian location, after having successfully launched similar programs in Penticton in 2002 and Edmonton in 2015. During that time they not only became the first hockey-related sport school in B.C. recognized by B.C. Hockey and Hockey Canada, but also branched out worldwide, with schools in St. Polten, Austria and Swindon, England opening.
Oakes said their research shows the new academy program, and its eventual camps and combines, will not take away from anything they started in their home base of Penticton, to which they are still committed.
“Because of costs of travel and distance, we don’t get a lot of Ontario people at the Penticton camps or academy. Provincial education restricts families because of the added expense to send your child to an out-of-province school. This new academy will serve the eastern side of the country.”
The organization has placed over 150 athletes in junior, collegiate and professional hockey programs around the world, including 13 alumni of the academy drafted to the NHL since 2010.
“Much of OHG’s success in producing successful student athletes comes from the incredibly talented and knowledgeable coaching and support staff we employ,” said Dixon Ward, vice-president of Okanagan Hockey Academy. “Our coaches come from strong hockey backgrounds and are eager to pass down their knowledge and love for the sport to the next generation.”
Ward speaks from experience, as a former NHL player, having played 537 NHL games of which 22 were for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Since its inception in 1963, OHG — the longest running hockey camp in the world — has sought to develop talented young athletes from all around the globe into world class hockey players. In 2014, the OHG partnered with the Western Hockey League (WHL) to create the WHL Prospect Combines — an event designed to test the skills and abilities of young athletes while providing exposure to WHL teams. This partnership allows athletes to experience the calibre of hockey seen at the highest level of junior hockey in Canada. OHG will be hosting camps and combines in Whitby as early as summer 2018.
“Our goal is to provide talented, young student-athletes with the tools to reach their full academic and athletic potential,” said Oakes. “There is an immense amount of hockey spirit and talent within the Ontario hockey community. As positive members of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association and Ontario Hockey Federation, we’re excited to offer dedicated student-athletes a world-class training and education program close to home.”