STORY WRITTEN BY PERRY BERGSON
THE BRANDON SUN
Dave Lewis and Craig Anderson’s willingness to become involved in the Western Canadian Hockey Academy ultimately hinged on one important point. It couldn’t harm the existing minor hockey infrastructure in Westman. When they learned that Jared Jacobson shared that philosophy, it didn’t take long for the two Hockey Factory instructors to sign on.
“We’re big supporters of minor hockey,” Lewis said. “Our kids have come through the minor hockey system here in Brandon and we just thought this was a much better way to enhance their product. We’re not here to hurt their program.
“We thought we could do more player development and they can go back to their minor hockey teams and do their tactical development with their teams. That’s the best of both worlds.”
If the WCHA had iced teams in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League, it may have siphoned off the top young players in the under-15 and even U18 programs from the Brandon Wheat Kings, Southwest Cougars and Yellowhead Chiefs. Instead, the program will be sending players back to their teams with daily instruction on the game.
“This is going to make the programs in our area stronger by advancing kids throughout the day, working on their skill development, getting them faster, stronger, more skilled,” Anderson said. “This should have more of a positive effect on the strength of our bantam and midget AAA programs.”
The new academy might also prevent youngsters from attending more distant prep programs, keeping the best players with their local teams.
Lewis started Hockey Factory 19 years ago, growing it from a small grassroots program to a very large one that focuses on skating and hockey skills.
He said it was easy to envision how the marriage between the academy and his program would pay dividends for everyone involved. A big addition in the eyes of Lewis is the goaltending program, which Hockey Factory hadn’t previously offered.
“That extension of the Hockey Factory and taking it to a whole new level is something that Chevy and I are really pumped about,” Lewis said.
The new rink will include a National Hockey Leaguesized ice surface, three shooting bays on ice, a performance centre, middle years classroom, six-lane 100-metre track and on-ice video training. In addition to their studies every day, players will be given 75 minutes of on-ice instruction and 60 minutes of dryland training.
He said stepping away from the Hockey Factory brand isn’t that difficult. His focus has always been on players, regardless of what the program is called.
“To me, it’s just about the players hopefully getting a chance to play at the level they want to,” Lewis said. “Whether it’s the Hockey Factory or the WCHA, it’s about the players realizing their dreams. It’s bittersweet but at the same time not really. It’s just an opportunity for us to offer more to the kids.”
The academy will cater to youngsters from Grades 5 to 8 at the rink, which is located in the southwest corner of the city on 34th Street south of Patricia Avenue. Anderson said it will allow the duo to do what they have been doing but a lot more.
They generally have kids for a couple of weeks during the summer and have found that eventually, the habits they are taught begin to erode.
They’ve evened noticed it with their own sons, Ty Lewis of the ECHL’s Utah Grizzles and the American Hockey League’s Colorado Eagles, and Calder Anderson of the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors.
“Sooner or later they begin to lose the technical part of it, specifically with their skating,” Anderson said. “Dave and I can recognize it right away when we’re watching Calder play or Ty play, that he’s losing his recovery or not extending his stride long enough. Just because we get those kids for a short period of time, we find that they get it, keep it for a month and then lose it.
“The kids we’ll have will get it consistently for an entire year so we shouldn’t see those bad habits come into play. We should in our opinion develop these kids a lot quicker.”
Anderson noted coaching in minor hockey generally focuses on things such as team play and defensive zone coverage rather than individual skill development. In the new WCHA model, the skill development will come from one spot and the team development from another.
Both men are taking leave from the Brandon School Division, with Lewis serving as director of player development and Anderson as director of hockey operations.
Lewis said their backgrounds certainly help.
“A lot of our instructors are teachers,” Lewis said. “I certainly don’t mean this the wrong way but there is a way that you connect to kids and teach children and plan and so much of that is transferred from the education process that we go through. That’s been a big piece of the Hockey Factory.”
He said that shows in the way instructors are build lesson plans that allow youngsters to grow.
“I really love teaching and educating, but now I’m going to be able to do it on ice, which is exciting for me,” Anderson said. “It’s taken probably about a year for this to get up and running. Now it’s just about here so it’s exciting.”
Western Hockey League assistant coaches Mark Derlago and Dan Johnston of the Wheat Kings will be helping out, and Jacobson said the facility will add some former professional players to its staff, which allows them to develop into coaches and provides a life after hockey.
Still, the key building block for Jacobson was getting Lewis and Anderson on board.
“They’re both super knowledgable hockey guys, and having them join as locals — their home base is here — that’s huge because I know that it’s sustainable with them and they’re staying,” Jacobson said. “They’re going to be here for years to come so it’s huge.
“It’s super exciting. They’re great guys and get along with everybody. The Hockey Factory, don’t even know how many people they’ve developed over the years.”
Anderson shares Jacobson’s optimism. He can’t quite believe it’s all come together.
“It’s been kind of surreal for me,” Anderson said. “For some reason, it still seems too good to be true. For me to be able to get up every day and go to the rink and get on the ice, and make a living doing it, that’s something I’ve been wanting to do since I started into education.”
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