Steve Waldner and
Western News Staff
What started out as a summer job for Larry Lund, has become something bigger.
Lund started skating in Summerland with friends on Tuesdays and Thursdays in 1958. Speaking in a video titled Okanagan Hockey School, Over 40 Years of Hockey, Lund said it was a way for players to stay in shape and get ready for their major junior or professional season. He then discovered that organizing a hockey school would be a great opportunity for a summer job while staying in top condition. That began in 1962. During the first two years, Lund worked with Larry Hale and Bill Lougheed as instructors for the school, which was called Holiday Hockey School. That eventually changed to Okanagan Hockey School in 1965 because Lund said they “didn’t want the players coming here thinking it was a holiday.”
“When we originally started, we thought of the adults coming for a holiday,” joked Lund, who partnered with Nick Iannone for 25 years.
The video states the real OHS began in 1965.
After 50 years of operation, the OHS has seen some prestigious names added to its list of alumni. President Andy Oakes points out that Jim Hughson, Niedermayer, Rod Brind’Amour and Scott Carter, recent inductees to the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame, are alumni from the school.
Lund, who sold all of his shares in 2005, said 50 years is a significant time frame.
“It’s a real accomplishment,” added Lund. “When you look at 50 years and the success it has had, it speaks a lot about the quality of the program. How did it grow and prosper over 50 years? That’s got to be related directly to quality.”
The OHS has had several NHLers work at the school. In recent years they include Chuck Kobasew, Dany Heatley, Duncan Keith, Brendan Morrison, whose son has attended, Zack Stortini, Carey Price and Kelowna’s Josh Jorges among others.
During the video Lund attributed the school’s success to his wife Sharon and family friend Janet Iannone. Both handled the office work and organizing. Kids went down water slides, played mini golf and floated the channel while attending the school. They had activities every night.
“It wasn’t just a hockey camp, which was important,” he said.
Now, the hockey school operates on a global level; although the flagship school is still in Penticton. There are programs set up throughout western Canada, as well as a few sprinkled throughout Europe. Globally, this year marked the busiest year for the hockey schools with 1,960 kids attending. In 1965, 30 players attended. The product also grew with the addition of the academy in 2002-03. Lund said adding that was a natural progression. It was also done to keep key employees here year round.
However, relying on training programs that worked in the past is no way to approach the future — especially when that future is in a rapidly changing area like athletics.
“It’s interesting, the athlete has changed over the years,” said Oakes. “The athletes are becoming more advanced mentally and physically at younger age brackets.
“Families are putting their kids into programs at younger and younger ages and having them do specialized training at younger and younger ages,” he continued. “For a lot of kids, even 10, 15 years ago it was mid-teens before they were shipped away to be trained in a specialized camp-type scenario, and now we’re seeing 8, 9 or 10-year-olds who already want to be in the defencemen camp”
It’s these newer, highly specialized camps that the OHS, Penticton’s branch in particular, offers, along with the standard camp experience.
Some of these highly-specialized programs are defenceman-centered programs, power-skating camps and female-only camps, among others.
However it’s not only the camp and the players that benefit from the camps, but the entire city of Penticton as well.
The participants in the hockey camps usually come to town with their parents, who then take in the tourist attractions of the city, such as wine tours and golfing. And these tourist dollars aren’t easily halted by bad weather.
“Our families are here because of hockey school and then tagging on their family vacation onto it,” said. The one thing about our customers is they come no matter what the weather is, their kids are still in hockey school and they’re still here vacationing.”
An economic impact survey done a few years ago marked an economic impact off $13.5 million dollars over the course of a year — and Oakes said the growth the school has seen will only create more economic boosts.
“We’re expecting it to grow from that over the last two years,” he said. “We’re expecting to see a greater input into the economic community here in Penticton because of our growth in our hockey school.”