Less than a year in, Phoenix excels in providing opportunities for its student-athletes
By: Justin Bradford
The TPH Center of Excellence (CoE) in Phoenix is still very young, but it's already making a lasting impression on student-athletes, their families and its own staff. The center has brought a balance of academics and athletics with a blended learning experience in the classroom with on and off-ice training, plus a mentorship program to prepare student-athlete for the future.
Even with the pandemic, TPH Phoenix has found commitment from everyone involved to make sure its students are receiving the tools they need to succeed.
"The commitment all the way around from the student-athletes and staff are striving to be their best every day," said Brett Blatchford, Director of Hockey-Operation. "It's been nice to see the commitment level that they all have. The kids may not be elite today, but they all have a desire to get there. Our staff wants these kids to succeed. The lengths they're willing to go to ensure their success, the student-athletes have so many resources available that there's no way they won't grow into better hockey players and people."
While the pandemic has brought with it many challenges to education and athletics, TPH Phoenix has done everything possible to keep its student-athletes safe. The consistency of the educational process has been tremendous accomplishment this year, even with the challenges faced.
"First and foremost, we've had a commitment to keeping the kids safe," said Blatchford. "It's taken diligence to make sure everyone is following the proper precautions and beyond that keeping them in school and progressing in their development. We feel like we're fully set up to give our student-athletes a good experience even if they do have to quarantine. The Kinduct mobile app helps with our communication to the student-athletes and keeps them on track. We're set up to handle a blended learning environment. We easily make a transition if it's needed. There are also at-home programs the student-athletes can use to stay on task with their training and academics."
That consistency has been a key factor for Julie Hymovitch, whose son Evan (2007) attends the CoE in Phoenix.
"The experience has been even better than we knew it was going to be, particularly in light of COVID," said Hymovitch. "What's really important is that there haven't been many stops at the CoE, and they've been very consistent. That's been so huge that my kid has been able to be social. Some kids that have not been able to have that social piece in safe learning environment is a big problem. Mental health is really important. I'm hearing from a lot of friends whose kids are stuck at home, and they're seriously depressed. That's one of the things that has been huge for us and a big deal that TPH has been able to do this safely during a pandemic."
The TPH Center of Excellence isn't only about training and educating student-athletes. It's about preparing them for their future. Each CoE has success coaches and mentors that provide students much-needed one-on-one attention to help them develop and be ready for their future, even if it's not in sports.
"TPH is unique in that it gives student-athletes a huge opportunity to succeed at the next level of life, and in their communities, whether they're athletes or not," said Brendan Burke, Player Development Coach & Mentor. "They're going to get more personal attention here than any other school I know of here. We work with them on planning and making a schedule. They build a lot of life skills here that will help them be ready for college and university."
Student-athletes are surrounded by staff members with experience at various levels of sport. Whether it be major juniors in Canada, juniors in the United States, NCAA Division-I or even professional hockey, TPH Phoenix has mentors and coaches that share their experiences with students.
"It's a unique staff because no two staff members bring the same experiences," said Blatchford. "No matter what level a student-athlete here wants to play at, there's someone here that has something to offer them. They understand what it takes to be a pro and play at different levels of the sport. The fact that they're able to be surrounded by people that played at the level that they aspire to get to and a group of people who understand what it takes to be successful and are eager to share that knowledge with the student-athletes to give them the best opportunity to succeed."
For parents, having mentors and leadership training even outweighs so many other aspects of what's provided at the Center of Excellence. Amy Koch has twin sons, Zachariah and Samson (2009), that attend the CoE in Phoenix. She's already seeing the positive impact from the mentorship program on her sons.
"The biggest thing that stands out to me is the mentorship program that has created very strong foundations for leadership and team building," said Koch. "They also understand the importance of skill building as opposed to just a game, and that's resonated in their performance with their club team, their home and other sports they play as well. The CoE provides our children with the ability to set goals and have the foundation and structure and support to execute them successfully both in hockey, school and life."
In regards with Evan Hymovitch, the CoE has helped him become a leader in the locker room and at home.
"His coaches picked captains and assistant captains two months into the season," said Evan's mom Julie. "Evan was made captain because of how he led in the locker room and how he interacted with his teammates. I think that has a lot to do with what happens in our house as he's the youngest of five. The CoE is something where he has just wanted to shine. He used to be introverted, and now he's the first one to ask how he can help. He'll just jump in and offer help at school and at home. It's little things that prepare you the future. It's something that clicks with him at the CoE where he takes that and bring it forward. Everyone has noticed a difference in him. It has given Evan so much more confidence both on and off the ice. It's made him a better teammate. It has enhanced his academic life. When I look at him as a student compared to last year, I've seen big changes."
From a balanced learning environment, to being flexible in a pandemic, the way a student-athlete learns at the CoE in Phoenix has been one that parents enjoy. Balancing school and athletics have played a huge role in reducing stress and actually giving students more of their own time to do other things, which includes spending time with family.
"It's a whole lot less aggravation for me," said Hymovitch. "I'm not having to do the battle about homework and no tears over a lost weekend. Evan has free time now because of the balance while he's at school. With his siblings being home right now as a part of virtual college, he gets to spend time with them, too. If he was at regular school, he wouldn't have this extra time to be with his family. He's been staying on or ahead of pace because he's loving school. He actually enjoys it. He geeks out over the way school is set up, and he also gets the extra ice time without it being extremely early in the morning. It also gives extra to do extra workouts and whatever he wants to do. It's so nice because we're not all stressed.
Student-athletes are given goals and the expectation is that they will follow through on them. They're given responsibility and ownership over their day, which parents feel helps them succeed. Those are skills that won't only help them succeed in secondary school, but in college and beyond.
"I think it's been amazing to watch the program set really strong goals and understand the follow through and step by step process on how to become a good scholar, friend and athlete," said Amy Koch. "Those building blocks are important. Sometimes we forget that it takes steps to get there. Especially in academics, it's giving them ownership, leadership and quality performance that they're accountable for themselves. It's an independent type of learning where they have to set those goals and hit them. They're learning how to break them down and understand that little goals are just as important as the big goals."
It's definitely a unique learning environment at the CoE, but it's one that student-athletes and staff embrace. Many liken it to preparing them for life on a college campus. More independence mixed with heightened responsibility.
Another notable unique experience at the CoE in Phoenix is the ability to bring in special guests on occasion. Special guests can include former or current professional players sharing their life experiences and answering questions from student-athletes. With a staff so well-connected in the hockey world like the one in Phoenix, it's not a mystery that they've been able to bring in some fantastic speakers.
"We've been super lucky to have a lot of NHL players come to the Phoenix area and train," said Burke. "We also have a lot of ex-NHLers that live in the area. We recently had Jake Bean and Matt Dumba to come speak as special guests. There's a huge hockey community here that we've been able to lean on already in our short existence."
Burke made the connections with Dumba and Bean while all three were playing in the WHL in the mid 2010s. And while those are a couple guests that have stopped by, many more are sure to come.
Less than a year in, TPH Phoenix is making a positive impact on the lives of everyone involved. They've built a foundation with their student-athletes with an understand that gains aren't immediate, but that they take time. Now that they're establish, the center, its student-athletes and its staff will continue to grow.
"Significant gains take time; it's not immediate," said Brett Blatchford. "Once a foundation was established with the student-athletes, it became seamless to go through training on and off the ice. We continue to add layers now and can see the growth. The student-athletes went through on and off-ice testing at the beginning of the year, and they'll go through it at the end of the year so we can see the growth each one has made."
It's an exciting time to be at the Center of Excellence in Phoenix, and space will be available soon for the 2021-22 school year. To learn more about the Center of Excellence, click here.