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ROBIN SHORT: Is pricey prep school worth it in the end?

Future NHLer Dwayne Norris of St. John's (third from left, bottom row) was one of the first hockey players from Newfoundland and Labrador to play prep school hockey, suiting up for the renowned Athol Murray College team in Wilcox, Sask., aka the Hounds of Notre Dame. The move paid off for Norris, who was a special talent whilst coming up through the minor hockey ranks.
Future NHLer Dwayne Norris of St. John's (third from left, bottom row) was one of the first hockey players from Newfoundland and Labrador to play prep school hockey, suiting up for the renowned Athol Murray College team in Wilcox, Sask., aka the Hounds of Notre Dame. The move paid off for Norris, who was a special talent whilst coming up through the minor hockey ranks. - FILE

More and more hockey players going prep school route, but numbers aren’t reflective in college/university and QMJHL appearances

Never before has there been as many young athletes from this province playing prep school hockey across the country, and in the United States.

Newfoundlanders attending prep schools isn’t news. Going way back, Dwayne Norris headed off to Athol Murray College of Notre Dame — to skate for the Hounds — in Wilcox, Sask. Teddy Purcell did so as well, 15 years ago. Same with Newfoundland Growlers captain James Melindy, and a handful of others.

And Harold Druken played prep school hockey outside Boston, over 20 years ago.

But the number of kids then doesn’t measure to the degree to which we see today, with upwards of 20 boys, at least, toiling in prep schools both domestically and internationally.

Yet we see the number of athletes drafted into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — territory rights holders of players from this province as a result of the St. John’s Fog Devils’ tenure in the ‘Q’ — dwindling instead of increasing.

Only six were selected this year and last, and eight in each of the three years prior to that.

In this most recent draft, of the six Newfoundlanders selected, only one — Ryan Greene of Paradise — played prep school hockey, in Connecticut.

Zach Dean of Mount Pearl, who went fourth overall, played minor midget last season in Toronto. The other four played major midget in Newfoundland.

Through the first five rounds of Saturday’s draft, only nine players were selected from prep school programs — nine of 90 players.

Prep school has its advantages. Lots of ice, lots of games, good education. But prep school tuition, and admission into the growing number of hockey academies, isn’t cheap, often running in the $40,000 range. And few, if any of these schools/organizations award scholarships, although there are financial aid programs for those who qualify.

If you’re a Ryan Greene, prep school is a very good option, because Greene is good. Not good as in good in this little hockey hamlet, but good as in Greene might be considered a special athlete.

A college or major junior career is absolutely possible, perhaps even the prospects of turning pro down the road.

But that’s a long ways off.

Alex Newhook went to prep school, too, to St. Andrew’s College, just north of Toronto. Newhook is an exceptional talent, who needed the advanced competition, just as Druken did, and Purcell and Norris before him.

And herein lies difference. Special talent, vs being merely good in Newfoundland.

It’s a steep contrast.

Many of these schools, such as St. Andrew’s and Rothesay Netherwood and King’s Edgehill, are well-steeped in tradition with, one can assume, strong academic programs.

But tuition runs higher than most monthly mortgage payments.

New Brunswick’s Rothesay has a yearly fee for those requiring boarding of roughly $40,000, depending of the grade. King’s Edgehill boarding fees for next season are $44,250.

For those attending these institutions for the hockey — and let’s be honest, for most it’s about the hockey — parents had better be getting a lot for the hockey-playing child.

And that’s the million dollar question.

The outstanding hockey player will benefit, primarily from the enhanced competition. For the athlete who is merely good, the benefits are debatable when weighed with the financial commitment.

When your prep school loses to local major midget teams in tournament play, as in the case of Rothesay at the Halifax Icejam, or when your program falls far short of emulating far more established hockey institutions such as Saskatchewan’s Notre Dame or Minnesota’s Shattuck-St. Mary’s, questions have to be raised.

Especially when cheques for $41,000, in the case of the Ontario Hockey Academy, and $41,900, for the Canadian International Hockey Academy, are required.

With brings us to Newbridge Academy.

Recent headlines tell us the Dartmouth private school is leaving the facility it’s occupied for only two years because of a leasing dispute with the building’s owner.

The school says it’s presented two written offers to purchase the building in partnership with a local developer, but both have been rejected. On the other hand, the building’s owner says Newbridge has fallen behind in its lease payments.

Who knows.

But if I’m shelling out $11,000 a year solely for tuition, it’s a troubling development.

Ultimately, the question which needs to addressed is how much benefit is the athlete receiving from the prep school route? Or more to the point, benefit vs cost.

I recall many years ago Steve Bishop telling me of a representative from a prep school/hockey program who inquired about his son.

Soon, the conversation got around to money, and Bishop was frank in his reply: until the quoted price was knocked down to zero, the boy wasn’t going anywhere.

That was the end of the conversation.

Staying home to play major midget hockey didn’t hurt Clark Bishop, NHLer and Calder Cup winner.

IN SHORT

The Newfoundland Growlers won’t like this, but if I’m pending free agent Zach O’Brien, I’m considering Europe next season, striking while the iron’s hot following an playoff MVP performance … Clark Bishop played in the ECHL two years ago, appearing in 21 games for the Florida Everblades. This season, he  played in 20 National Hockey League games, scoring his first NHL goal … The 2019 Canadian national senior men’s softball team has seven players from Newfoundland and Labrador on the 14-man roster, and Ontario has one. Ontario, as of 2016, had a population of 13,448,494 according to Statistics Canada, and Newfoundland and Labrador just 519,716 … Time is ticking on the 2025 Canada Summer Games, which St. John’s is scheduled to host, and so far there’s not a peep about it. We have the soccer, baseball and softball fields, and indoor courts needed to accommodate the Games, but if the city is to play host to Canada in ’25, it needs a track and field complex, which will also sub for opening and closing ceremonies, and a pool. The Games are only six years away … Who would have thought the Toronto Raptors would won an NBA championship before the Toronto Maple Leafs won a Stanley Cup? … Know what I like about Kawhi Leonard? There’s no flash and dash, no swagger, no strut. The guy just goes out and plays. The way Larry Bird used to do it …

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email robin.short@thetelegram.com

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