|Academy Looks To The Future|
As the Okanagan Hockey Academy continue their preparations ahead of opening its doors at the Link Centre in Swindon, swindonwildcats.com caught up with Head Coach Pete Russell to find out how things are progressing.
Pete, the Hockey Season has finished but having been appointed the Head Coach for the new Okanagan Hockey Academy operations in Swindon, this must be a very busy period for you?
Pete Russell: “Yes, it certainly is! I’m really excited to be heading the [OHA UK] programme though, it’s a great opportunity for me and for the future of ice hockey in this country.
“I’ve been really busy with research, travelling around watching various players as well as carrying out various planning objectives over the last few weeks. I don’t have much spare time at present, but it is certainly worth spending all my time getting everything in place as the programme is so important.”
How did your new role come about?
PR: “I had offers from the EPL that I was considering, but I was talking to Mr Oakes who is the President of OHA/OHS when he was over meeting Wildcats General Manager, Steve Nell. He was looking to fill the role and it certainly appealed to me. Steve then spoke to me about the role a few weeks later and offered me the position, and I knew it was a fantastic opportunity for me.”
You’ll be assisted by Wildcats Ryan [Aldridge], Jan [Melichar] and Aaron [Nell] – all are players with a great deal of experience who will be able to complement the guidance and coaching being offered to the Academy players –how important is it to have a team around you who you know well?
PR: “As a Head Coach it is always important to have people around you who you trust and people with strong knowledge of the game.
“Ryan, Jan and Aaron are all guys I have known for a long time and whom I have worked with closely so I know what they can bring to the programme. In my view they will each bring something different and that will only benefit the programme and most importantly, the young players.”
It’s the first Ice Hockey Academy of its kind in the area – what will you be aiming to achieve?
PR: “At the OHA, we will have a wealth experience and knowledge to help players with personal development both on and off the ice. The programme will help create a pathway for each of them so as they will stand the best possible chance to achieve their goals.
“My aim is geared towards creating a ‘complete’ hockey player, with development in individual skills, individual tactics and a great ‘game sense’. The day to day programme on-the-ice will be a big key in achieving this, but the intensive off-the-ice programme will help take the players to a new level.
“With my experiences in hockey and the work I carry out at my school, I also believe this programme will not only improve them as hockey players, but as students and we will strive to achieve better academic results through-out the year."
You recently said that there was a real need in the UK for a programme of this kind - who is the Academy open too?
PR: "The Academy is open to any young hockey player who is striving to get to the next level and has the desire to experience a full-time development programme.
“To have such a programme in the UK is fantastic and a great opportunity for the serious player.
“OHA are a very successful organisation in both Canada and Austria and we will be aiming to emulate that success here in the UK. This will be a fantastic journey for everyone involved and especially those players who join us this year!”
Has the Academy received much interest from potential players?
PR: “Yes, without doubt! Over the last few weeks as the programme has gained more and more publicity and we have received a great deal of interest and the feedback we are getting has been very positive indeed.
“The word is now starting to get around regarding what a great experience this will be for any young player and in my opinion, it is a dream for any youngster who is serious about his hockey, to be able wake up in the morning and go down to the rink and train before they go to school.”
You've been travelling around the South West to watch some talented young British players since the end of the season – there is obviously massive potential for players to progress their careers at an earlier age with the introduction of the Academy, how confident are you that you’ll be able to attract the right kind of player?
PR: “There’s no doubt that there are some very talented kids around out there and this programme is really here to make them even stronger.
“It’s not only about the player though, it’s about the individual and how much he ‘wants’ it.
“Yes there is a great programme ready for all who attend, but the players who put in the effort both on and off-the-ice, will be the ones who gain the greatest advantage from what we are offering.
“We obviously want every player to give us 110% effort towards their own development throughout the year and for those who do, they will develop the greatest I guarantee that!”
Players will be eligible to play for the Wildcats in their ENL Division 2 games – how important will that be in developing their ability?
PR: “That is a tough question to answer really. The pathway is available for each individual to be involved with the ENL or the EPL clubs if they are ready to make the step-up, but we are offering a very intense programme and as such, they will be training on and off the ice each and every day.
“There will be over fifty games lined up each season in the UK and over in mainland Europe, so we will be monitoring each individual very closely to make sure they are developing correctly.
“Every player needs to be worked hard, but it’s equally important that each player has enough quality time to rest in order to be able to perform to their best levels. They need the right mix and it needs to be at the right time, as this will aid their development in the right manner."
The Academy has the potential to help produce some real British talent in the years ahead but there is a lot of tough work for the players luckily enough to gain a place. With early morning practice, academic studies and matches all to fit in, how do you decide which players will be up to the challenge over those who may want to drop out along the way?
PR: “Every player will be continually monitored and evaluated very closely indeed. This will enable us to maximize players performance and development. We will be controlling their training factors and tailoring their individual programme to suit.
“I have developed a ‘Seasonal Plan’ already and this will help prevent player ‘burn out’ and will assist with controlling the volume, level or intensity of their training.
“Modules of the off-ice programme will also be beneficial to each player and will help them to understand how their bodies and minds function. They’ll develop the knowledge of when to rest or refuel in order to achieve maximum levels of performance.
“In essence, we will be fast tracking a player’s development on and off the ice in a controlled professional and safe environment.”
Will there be any opportunity for players to progress to the senior Wildcats team once their programme has finished?
PR: "Most definitely, but beyond that and more importantly for each player, we also have contacts throughout Europe and within Canada via our family of OHA Academies.
“My goals are to help every participant achieve their short, mid and future goals all the way through this experience and we have an obligation to help each player progress as far as their ability allows.”
You can follow Pete Russell on Twitter: @PeteRussel
For more information on the Okanagan Hockey Academy, visit their website or call Swindon Wildcats General Manager Steve Nell on 01793 886 857. You can also join the Facebook group, or follow them on Twitter: @okanaganUK
© Cover photo with thanks to official Wildcats photographer Nicky Pearce.
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General Manager - Steve Nell