EXCLUSIVE: 29 February 2012
In a ground breaking development in sports education in Britain, the Okanagan Hockey School Europe (OHSE), a division of the Okanagan Hockey School Ltd. (OHSL) in British Columbia, Canada, has announced an expansion by setting up a new hockey business unit in Swindon.
It means for the first time that young British ice hockey players will have the opportunity to hone their skills, without having to leave the UK, for professional coaching.
Okanagan Hockey Academy UK (OHAUK) is headed by General Manager Steve Nell, general manager of Swindon Wildcats, based at Swindon Link Centre, while Markus Houben will assume the duties of managing director.
The hockey academy will use the Okanagan business model, established in Penticton, British Columbia, and developed since 2009 at its sports school offshoot in St. Pölten, Austria.
Youngsters will be attracted to Swindon to take up places offered at Lydiard Park Academy in Grange Park where they will follow the national curriculum and a timetable tailored to allow for early morning ice hockey training at the rink at nearby Link Centre. Under 18s will attend local colleges. During term time the players will board with families close to the school and the sports facilities.
The young players will spend an hour training on ice before school during the week and will have an off-ice training schedule to follow, in addition to ensuring homework studies are completed.
Pictured: from left, Clive Harding, PE and sport academy leader, Lydiard Park Academy, Markus Houben, managing director of Okanagan Hockey School, Europe, Clive Zimmerman, headteacher, Lydiard Park Academy, Andy Oakes, president of Okanagan Hockey School, British Columbia, Steve Nell, general manager, Swindon Wildcats, Christian Dobbs, assistant headteacher and director of sport, Lydiard Park Academy
Image Richard Wintle, ©Calyx Multimedia www.calyxpix.com
OHAUK has clear objectives for both the short and long term viability of its UK Academy programme. In their inaugural season, the Okanagan team will compete at the under 16 and under 18 age groups. Through its links with the Swindon Wildcats the under 18 players will also have the opportunity to be selected for the Swindon Wildcats ENL 2 team and the EPL team.
Andy Oakes, President of Okanagan Hockey School Ltd., is confident the success of the Penticton and St. Polten businesses will make for a smooth transition in Swindon. He said: "Every company experiences growing pains, which is natural, but having been through this process before I am confident we can minimize any undue stress for OHAUK.
"Our primary objective is to develop character student athletes dedicated to bettering their communities through the company mission: ‘to encourage the achievement of each player’s full potential in Academics, Hockey, Sportsmanship and Citizenship through a stimulating and vigorous supportive environment.’
Markus Houben, Managing Director of OHAUK, said: "We are very pleased and excited to expand our European operations to the United Kingdom with our well known year-round hockey academy program. With our professional staff, the Okanagan Hockey Academy has been an exceptionally successful institution in Canada and Austria for several years."
Steve Nell said the hockey academy could only come about by the partnerships being created. "The relationships developed by Okanagan with Lydiard Park Academy and Swindon Borough Council is key to the development of the hockey academy.
"Our discussions with Clive Zimmerman and his staff at Lydiard Park Academy have been very positive. They are essential to the success of our project because the provision of high quality academic education is essential to the the Okanagan mission. Our partnership with the borough council is the third element in building the hockey academy. Hiring the rink for hockey ice training time is obviously key to the sporting success of the individuals and the team."
Headteacher Clive Zimmerman welcomed the initiative. “This is a very exciting opportunity for Lydiard Park Academy. Partnerships with sports clubs to develop the best talent are exactly what we have been aiming for. We have the physical capacity to accept more pupils. With a group of sports specialists we will be able to tailor academic timetables around training schedules.”
Link Centre manager Carol Jamieson said she was committed to seeing the ice hockey academy develop. "We have been able to negotiate ice time with the minimum amount of disruption to all users of the rink. The Okanagan initiative is a business opportunity that we had not included in our income projections so we welcome the formation of the ice hockey academy in association with Lydiard Park Academy."
Keith Williams, Swindon Council cabinet member for leisure services said: "The Okanagan ice hockey academy is great news for Swindon. With the closure of the ice rink in Bristol we’re seeing more ice skaters coming to Swindon; providing the facilities to develop Britain’s future ice hockey talent gives us the opportunity to showcase the provision of leisure facilities in the town, for which we have a long and impressive history.
"I’m glad Link Centre is able to accommodate a wider range of users on the ice with minimum disruption during term time and I welcome this commercial venture which will reduce the subsidy from the council tax payer.
• Lydiard Park Academy gained Youth Sports Trust gold partnership status on 28 February. Click to read about it.