Owen Sound hockey club

The Owen Sound Attack hockey club faced a problem attracting and retaining top-level talent in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), primarily because Owen Sound has no university.

For young men competing in the OHL, the goal is to earn a spot with a team in the National Hockey League (NHL). But equally important to the players and their parents is scoring a solid education. While other OHL cities such as London, Windsor, Ottawa and Toronto all have at least one university within their respective city limits, Owen Sound is home only to Georgian College, which doesn’t offer university degrees. The next-closest post-secondary institution is in Guelph – a 90-minute drive. The Attack, however, came up with a solution to the problem: an on-line university education centre for its players.

The average age of a hockey player in the OHL is about 17, but Dave Middleton – the Attack’s director of marketing – explained that for the club’s older players, university access is key.

“The problem we have in Owen Sound is that we don’t have a university here, and it’s really hindered us because a lot of players we end up getting want to go to university,” Middleton said. “If a parent sends a teenager to play in the OHL…they’re trusting us to make sure their son also gets an education.”

The Attack partnered with local business sponsors, including Harold Sutherland Construction, BMTS-BMI, Gillespie Basics and computer-servicecenter.com – the IT service provider – to make the centre a reality.

“It was a major initiative of the new ownership group,” Middleton said of the Attack, who were formerly known as the Owen Sound Platers. “The players themselves realize that only a small percentage of them will make a good living playing hockey and they need to be able to fall back on a solid education.”

Three of the Attack’s players use the education centre on a regular basis to take on-line university correspondence courses. The remaining 15 players on the team are still in high school.

“We didn’t have much to work with last year,” said Shawn Snider, a 19-year-old centre with the Attack who’s studying English and geography through the University of Waterloo. “It is a concern (living and playing in a town without a university), but the centre is good for everyone on the team – even the guys in high school use it. It’s more difficult studying in distant education courses, but it can be done.”

Local computer retailer Stephen MacKay is one of three partners who founded Owen Sound’s Computer Service Centre more than five years ago in the town of 22,000. His organization is responsible for maintaining the Attack’s education centre.

“We’re providing them with everything from standard maintenance services and repairs to networking needs and training,” he said.

The centre consists of four PCs, a DSL line for Internet access, and standard office software. The equipment and services provided by MacKay and company are paid for through the hockey club’s partners and through a non-profit group – the Grey-Bruce Youths’ Initiative Association – which provides education funding and resources for local athletes.

“We had to attract a higher quality of player, smarter players, in order to be competitive in the future,” Middleton said. “We were at a serious disadvantage until this came into effect…it’s as much a goal for our team to see our players win education awards as it is for them to win the Memorial Cup.”