The Imagination Economy: Sooke as a Hockey Town

The Imagination Economy: Sooke as a Hockey Town

“I saw the Angel in the Marble and Carved Until I Set Him Free” – Michelangelo

SOOOKE, BRITISH COLUMIBA, CANADA – 07 March 2014 — Since encountering Sooke a couple of years ago I have pondered the question “What would it Take to Turn Sooke into a Thriving Hockey Town?” This question has re-emerged during the Winter Olympics and by the fact that my son’s Sooke Midget A ice hockey team lead by Vern Burden, Wilf Bangert, Keith Brooks, Dave Kendall and Bob Wood and   is playing in the Island Championships. I must admit that this is the result of a multitask effort from  4a to 7a on that Sunday morning during the Canadian Olympic Ice Hockey game vs. Sweden. I am from Pittsburgh so was *kinda* routing for Canada, I must admit.  Sid finally scored and that was pleasing and helped make up for the battering the USA took in the prior two scoreless efforts. Anyway, congrats, Canada.

Teamis (aka Hollywood) PeeWeek Sooke Minor Hockey Player   December  2013 tournament.  To become a thriving hockey town Sooke needs to add 2 to 3 new sheets of ice.

Teamis (aka Hollywood) PeeWeek Sooke Minor Hockey Player December 2013 tournament. To become a thriving hockey town Sooke needs to add 2 to 3 new sheets of ice.

Sooke as a Hockey Town

“Sooke is a small town and it’s a hard-working community. Growing up in that environment helped instill a strong work ethic.”  – Cam MacIntyre, formerly of the San Jose Sharks

In some regards, of course, Sooke is already a very good hockey town. There is a proud tradition of ice hockey here as put forth through the Sooke Minor Hockey Association (SMHA), for which my sons play *for full disclosure*. For a smalltown, the Thunderbirds have historically punched far above their weight.  Sooke has produced professional NHL players such as Cam MacIntyre, formerly of the San Jose sharks. However, the potential of the SMHA is limited by Sooke’s population, which currently sits at about 12,000 to 15,000 people, depending  on whom you talk to. For example, there is only one rep-level team at each level — PeeWee, Bantam, and Midget.   Sooke doesn’t  ice any AA or AAA teams. Hockey in Sooke is limited by facilities as well with only one sheet of ice in town, and also  don’t have a dedicated “off-ice” gym for training, including weight training. (Mind you, the Sooke Gym is currently underutilized for such a function).  We also have hockey academies here in Sooke led by Mr. Elm at Journey Middle School  and Mr. Barrie at the Edward Milne Community School. After conducting some field research last Spring in order to answer this question I have posed as the theme of this article, I have come to the conclusion that what it would take is for an entrepreneur or two or three to open a new  programme and join the Canadian Sports School Hockey League (CSSHL). This is also known as the “Prep School League”.  Moreover, I believe that if we are going to do it here in Sooke, we should seek to compete with non other than  The Athol Murray College of Notre  Dame itself as well as the Pursuit of Excellence (POE) or the Okanagan Hockey Academy (OHA).  Notre Dame is a Catholic school in Wilcox, Saskatchewan but is not a member of the CSSHL currently. In Western Canada, its is known to be the premier hockey academy. Besides excellent academics, it offers dorm style accommodation for its students. Currently, the CSSHL is comprised of 9 teams between Alberta and British Columbia.

CSSHL Teams:  

Yale: Yale, British Columbia

The Edge: Calgary, Alberta

Burnaby: Burnaby, Alberta

Pursuit of Excellence: Kelwona, British Columbia

Delta: Delta, British Columbia

Okanagan Hockey Academy (OHA): Penticton, British Columbia

Compete: Idaho, USA

Banff – The Banff Hockey Academy in Banff, Alberta

Swiss International Sports & Education Center. Chestermere, Alberta

For more on the CSSHL see The CSSHL is currently in expansion mode. A few new teams were added last year and it seems that the organization would like to have another Vancouver Island team in its league. The organization is headed by Billy G. Doherty, an entrepreneur who founded the Banff Hockey Academy in 1994 from a dream. I met Billy on my CSSHL tour last Spring.

Enter the Pacific Coast Hockey Academy

There is a new academy that opened this season with a minor midget team in Colwood, British Columbia.  The academy practices at the Island Centre of Excellence (ICE) and Bear Mountain. This new  Pacific Coast Hockey Academy (PCHA) is headed by Sooke Resident Kelly Shields (who coaches the Minor Midget AAA team) and Kevin DeJong, formerly an owner of ICE, the co-Founder. I’ve been following the PCHA for a couple of years now, and the programme seems to be coming along quite well.  ICE was renovated to include team locker rooms and new training facility — and even a fireplace. Currently the PCHA minor midget AAAs are playing exhibition games against the CSSHL teams, in addition to tournaments, one of which it recently won in Cowichan. They are on the road a lot.  The PCHA will probably be accepted into the CSSHL next year. The Academy has partnered with SD62 to deliver the education side in a unique format, both online and off-. The issue that the CSSHL has with Vancouver Island, much like the WHL has, is the large transaction costs associated with travel to play games here. It takes time and money to  transport teams back and forth between the mainland and the Island. Adding an additional CSSHL team would be beneficial to all of the other teams of the CSSHL including the PCHA itself. That way, a team from afar, such as Banff or Burnaby, could spend a long weekend playing two teams here on the Island instead of just one.  In the same vein, the WHL has a desire to add an additional team, maybe in Nanaimo, so that a team making the trek can play more than just the Royals once they have taken the boat ride over.

During my visits to numerous CSSHL schools last year, I learned about the above, as well as some other factors about the business model.  One of the interesting things is the number of international students that the CSSHL brings to Canada. Hockey players from Sweden, Latvia, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Finland, Norway, Russia, and the United States of America. Such cultural diversity is a positive force for any community in Canada.

However, what I learned from parents is even more interesting. Parents seemed concerned with three main components of the prep school hockey experience here in Western Canada.

The first, unsurprisingly, is finance. These are not inexpensive programmes. With that said, they are  a whole lot less expensive than prep schools in the USA, which are about double the price on average.

The second is academics. Parents are  concerned about the quality of education received by their children in these programmes. But it was the third resistant point that surprised me: Many parentsare uncomfortable with the billeting model of accommodation at many of these schools. OHA especially seemed to be off a less-than-ideal scenario for parents, and I heard stories of problematic billeting experiences. This is one reason why Notre Dame continues to build and excellent programme with high caliber ice hockey.  It has dorms that are monitored, and parents feel comfortable with their children in such facilities. For the players, it also helps  build a sense of community, whereas billeting is a lonelier experience.

Strategy: Points of Differentiation for a New Sooke Hockey Academy

Thus, in order to differentiate a new CSSHL programme in Sooke, let’s call it the Sooke Hockey Academy, the following strategies could be deployed.  These would allow a the new academy to compete with the likes of POE and Notre Dame.

1) Central to a Sooke Hockey Academy would be the development of an endowment for scholarship distribution. The Academy should seek to position itself as attracting and developing players of high calibre, despite the financial wherewithal of their parents.  Its should seek to be a meritocracy. This will require strong network building and fundraising skills on behalf of the founding or early management team.

2) The Sooke Hockey Academy can offer nothing less than a high quality yet differentiated educational experience. To me this means leveraging SD62 and the BC curriculum, and partnering with the development of a cutting edge curriculum in information technology. There is a shortage of IT skills and education for that matter throughout the globe. This will position players for a healthy future career-wise, after their hockey careers have ended, which they inevitably are. In addition, experiential entrepreneurship learning can be combined with information technology training to develop a unique class of young technology entrepreneurs. No one is doing this. This will take a founding team member that understands information technology, education, and has experience in teaching technology entrepreneurship and developing entrepreneurs. In addition, Sooke’s location and competencies in agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture can be harnessed. This will provide further training to students in the realm of the bio. Biotechnology is another huge are of opportunity for building careers and entrepreneurial ventures  in the future. Finally, Sooke can leverage its history in the arts and local artist community to bring in the creative. There is also a gap in training in the creative that can be filled for another differentiation point. Thus, the educational value proposition and differentiation would entail the following four prongs:

*Information Technology


*Creative Arts



Together these five aspects of a good high school education at the Bantam level (8th grade) and beyond would be a good basis for feeding players into top universities in the USA, Canada, and world, including Sweden, Norway and Finland. Furthermore, I would recommend that the school bring back 13th grade, a Canadian tradition still found in some regions. This would allow junior hockey players to receive further education while they played junior level hockey before going to university. This is useful as the NCAA teams seem to be most interested in players that have played a couple of years of junior hockey, entering the university at the age of 20 and playing the next four or five years at the university level.  An extra year of high school – 13th year — will also help better prepare hockey players for the university.

3) Next, the Sooke Hockey Academy should partner to construct and operate dorm-style housing for its hockey students. This will be a major  point of differentiation against other hockey academies and CSSHL members. The Academic Entrepreneur suggests dorm-style housing for 500. This would accomodate hockey players, campers, coach-RAs, and even parent visitors.  These dorms should be constructed near to the new sheets of ice that are discussed below.

4). New ice hockey facilities will be needed in Sooke, perhaps up to 3 more. This will take a partnership with the CRD, a private developer, or the First Nations – T’Souke Nation –.which would be the most sensible patner.  SeaParc needs replaced for starters with a new facility and /or the 3 sheets of ice could be built elsewhere.  In addition, a dedicated off-ice training facility will be needed. This should be combined with a Curling community center for Sooke, which will help bring the community together to a central place in classic Canadian fashion.  Yes, 3 new sheets of ice and a Curling center in Sooke, that  will do it for the young, the old and the restless.

5) The Sooke Hockey Academy should seek to fill the following teams: Bantam AA, Bantam AAA, Bantam Girls; Elite 15 AA, Elite 15A; Minor Midget AA, Minor Midget AAA, Minor Midget Girls; Major Midget AA, Major Midget AAA, Major Midget Girls. Juvenile Boys and Girls; and Junior B and Junior A.  Other teams should be added as the academy grows. 20 teams means approximately 400 players should be the goal by year 6 of operation.

6)  It goes without saying that excellence in coaching and training will be a crucial piece of the Sooke Hockey Academy’s success. This is not a point to be taken ligthly however. Keen coaching at the individual level is needed to differentiate as well. For instance, goalies seem to be neglected coaching-wise at most hockey prep schools. Often goalies are lucky if they receive more than 1 hour a month individualized training from a goalie coach.

7) The Sooke Hockey Academy should also seek to partner with the T’Souke Nation. This might be achieved through icehockey scholarship opportunities for  children of the First Nation, in return for learning opportunities for the new student base. Such learning would include ethnographic study of the culture and traditions of the T’Souke Nation, and the posting of ethnographic scripts written by students to the school’s blog. Sustainable practices and the caretaking of the land can be explored. Other integrated learning might be interaction with the new wasabi greenhouse currently being constructed. This could be developed into a horticulture entrepreneurship course, which could bring new opportunities for economic development to the T’ Souke Nation through the student base. New entrepreneurial opportunities can be explored through the student base. This is exciting, game-changing stuff and will help differentiate the student-players of the Sooke Hockey Academy.

8) The Sooke Hockey Academy should offer year-round development programmes including summer camps in order to serve a larger international student base and leverage its assets.

Why Sooke?

Some might say “Why SOOKE? Are you kidding me?”.  People have joked that “the reason that ice hockey is so big here is that there is not much else to do”. I disagree.  In and around Sooke a kid can do bunch of cool things:  Saltwater fishing, crabing, Freshwater fishing, swim in the potholes, swim in the pool, run a dog, pet a llama,  hike, mountain bike, dirt bike, surf, windsurf, glide, zipline, ice skate, photographn nature, plant trees,  play with paint ball guns, golf, dance, learn martial arts, build Adruino board applications, programme software, skateboard, play fastball, plant a garden and do stuff, visit the lizard zoo, make food, roast coffee, and even paint and do art with Shanna Hamilton!  There is no shortage of things to do.

Moreover, Sooke is safe. Parents will feel comfortable about their children staying inSooke once they know it. The crime rate is virtually zero. A kid can bike or walk anywhere in the town.

Another reason is our precious T’Souke Nation. They will be a fine partner and are strongly bonded with the community already. A forward-looking First Nation is a real asset to the Sooke Hockey Acdemy.

Finally, we have SD62 and its impressive educational  assets that can be leveraged to provide further excellence in education. From the perspective of an Eastern European,Sooke will seem like paradise. For a Swede, well, they are used to such settings — but it is less  expensive here.

Economic Development

Why should we want to turn Sooke into a major hockey town in Canada? Well, because we can. Besides the development of a strong pride and identy in the community, its good for the economy. The District of Sooke is currently challenged by a deteriorating tax base. This is going to mean austerity in the future if solutions for growth are not found and developed. Whether you believe in the hockey prep school “thing” or not, it appears to be growing and is an organization that is not going away.  I’m aware of the “Association vs. Prep School” arguments of course, and there are valid points on both sides of the argument from a hockey and societal perspective. However, the fact of the matter is that a hockey prep school can be a positive economic driver for a small down. As an example, google recent news on the South Delta CSSHL team and you will find a positive community perspective on what the academy means to the town.

From an economic development perspective, the Sooke Hockey Academy could add an additional 400 players and 60 coaches to the population of Sooke across 20 or so teams. Assuming coaches would double as resident advisors in the dorms and as admistrative staff, we are talking about up to 60 new jobs being created within 6 years. Dorm-style housing will need constructed in Sooke, enough to house at least 500, and SD62 will have to beef up operations at both the Junior High School and High School levels.   The tuition fees alone represent approximately $8,000,000 in annual revenue and using a basic 10X multiplier means an additional economic benefit of $80 million to the economy of Sooke.


The Sooke Hockey Academy would help grow the Imagination Economy here in Sooke. It is an innovative educational institution that would combine Canada’s  sport with students from all over the world, and provide them with a unique educational experience that will allow them to interact with the community. A new hockey academy might finally enable a new curling center to be developed in Sooke.  New things and experiences will be created at the points of interaction between the student base and the community as the result of people using their imaginations together. Thus the imagination economy.

What will it take to get this innovative educational institution moving forward?  An entrepreneurial team with the right combination of hockey, education and business experience and skills including fundraising and operations. The Academic Entrepreneur is interested in this ice hockey prep school model as its a most interesting academic entrepreneurship play. Especially a competitive one that seeks to challange Notre Dame, POE and OHA at their own games.

Michael Clouser, The Academic Entrepreneur

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