The Burnaby Winter Club and Burnaby Central Secondary School are joining forces to form a midget hockey academy that will compete in the Canadian Sports School Hockey League this fall.
The elite school league, founded in 2009, will compete in an under-18 prep division for grades 11 and 12 students and a new elite 15s division against academy teams from Alberta, the Okanagan, and Lower Mainland teams from Abbotsford and South Delta.
"Strategically we needed to be in this game and here we are doing it," said BWC general manager Len McNeely.
The school league differs from Burnaby North's school academy in that it caters to a specific elite age group. It also is not in direct competition with the existing B.C. major midget hockey league and the Northwest Giants, which are also based at the winter club.
The prep team is most likely to be made up of players who will not make it on a major midget roster. The elite 15s addresses an age-group gap on most existing major midget clubs and an opportunity for 15-year-old players to compete in something other than what exists at the association level, said McNeely.
"Few (15-year-olds) made it on major midget teams. There was a void there and an important need to play at a higher level of competition. It's addressing that particular void," he added.
Ian Gallagher, director of hockey operations at the South Delta academy, was a main driver in helping expand the existing school league to include a total of nine teams in one or the other of the two divisions.
The Burnaby Winter Club will compete in both divisions, along with South
Delta, Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, Pursuit of Excellence in Kelowna, Edge School Sports in Calgary and Banff Academy.
Former Greater Vancouver major midget coach Leland Mack, who also spent two seasons as an assistant with the Giants, will be the head coach of the younger elite school team. A coach for the prep team will be named at a later date, said McNeely.
The winter club academy will offer elite coaching, high school graduation credits, a more than 50-game schedule, as well as on-ice and dry land training.
Players will be selected based on evaluation skates likely to be held later this month. The teams will train and compete from September to June.
Academy players would also be eligible to affiliate with junior teams, said McNeely.
The academy program was approved by the Burnaby School District last week.
The moves will not affect the club's existing affiliations with the Giants and the Grandview Steelers of the Pacific Junior Hockey League, said McNeely. The club's midget A1 rep team will also be available for club members to compete with at the Pacific Coast association level.
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