A look at Royal Vale’s unique hockey program for younger athletes
When walking into Royal Vale School in NDG, you would think it is similar to the other elementary schools in the area. The staff is helpful, the teachers are conducting their lessons and the students are going about their business. But after taking a deeper look into the school, it becomes apparent that their hockey program sets them apart from the rest.
Over a decade ago, Royal Vale physical education teacher Norman Katz created a hockey program with the goal to promote health and activity.
“These programs are typically found in high schools, therefore it was a unique initiative [for an elementary school],” said Katz.
According to Katz, it all started when his colleagues at Lower Canada College, a school renowned for its impressive athletics programs, asked him if he’d like to put a team together from Royal Vale to compete in a league. Katz would accept the proposition and made elementary school history in the 2011-2012 season when Royal Vale finished in third place and qualified for the playoffs for the first time.
Katz admitted that starting the program from scratch was a bit overwhelming at first. “I told them I didn’t know if I can do this,” he said. “I needed an arena. We simply didn’t have the infrastructure.”
Determined to see this idea out, Katz eventually succeeded in creating the program, despite the fact no public elementary school had anything similar. “Being a public school kid all my life I’ve always believed that kids should have the same opportunities,” he said. “The fact that they can do things that anyone can is important to me.”
The training done within the program does not conflict with the students’ classes and the school uses the nearby Doug Harvey Arena for practices.
The philosophy of the program is a simple one. Whether you are a male or a female, you can play on the team if you are good enough. “Our captain of the team is a female. The first two goals of the program were scored by a girl, Danielle Shemie,” said Katz.
While he acknowledges it’s not easy for girls to play with their male counterparts for a number of reasons, he’s happy the school welcomes them to play. “It takes a strong character because you have to be okay with being around the guys. You want to be a part of the team,” he said. “I’m proud of every girl who has come through our program.”
Katz recalled some of his fondest moments since the inception of the program. “We participate in a tournament at Lower Canada College every year with teams from all across Canada,” he said. “When they [came] here, they [asked] themselves who we are but now they know who Royal Vale is because of our program.”
According to the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) website, Minnesota Wild defenseman Marco Scandella is an ambassador for the Royal Vale Elite Hockey Program. Scandella used to be a student at West Mount High School and Willingdon Elementary School in NDG. According to the EMSB, Scandella was chosen as an ambassador “due to his lifelong perseverance and success in his athletic career.”
Recently Royal Vale and Rapid Hockey Development have decided to work in collaboration together to offer students the opportunity to hone their hockey skills in a unique concentration program. For Katz, the introduction of this program will only continue to promote a hockey spirit at the school but he did express one concern. “Fundamentally I didn’t want the kids to pay any additional money for this program,” he said. “There is a cost involved to participate but there are also positive spinoffs.”
At the moment, it costs $1,375 to sign up for Rapid Hockey Development which includes 72 hours of on-ice training. The price can be steep for some parents as it is more expensive than joining a youth team. “There are some kids in my program who are on it and are getting more training. Ideally, you think we can be a better team due to this program,” said Katz.
The relationship with Rapid Hockey Development has helped Royal Vale foster a similar bond with Concordia University.
“One of the coaches at Rapid Hockey Development knew Marc-André Element, the coach of the hockey team at Concordia and asked if some of our students could go see a game,” recalled Katz.
Plans call for Royal Vale students to attend a hockey game at Concordia University on Feb. 12. “I’m hoping about 100 students could make the game but it will depend on the parents,” said Katz.
Elaborating on Royal Vale’s growing relationship with Concordia, Katz went on to say that it’s something he welcomes.
“I think like in anything, it has potential to lead to other things,” he said. “The connection with an elementary school and a university is an interesting one. Many of these kids may even end up going to Concordia in the future.”
“Concordia has sent a number of athletes to their Jump Rope for Heart Day while a number of Royal Vale students attended a women’s hockey game last year,” said Katz.
Royal Vale currently plays in a league with schools such as Lower Canada College, Kuper Academy, Selwyn House and Solomon Schechter.