Return to the rink a nice perk in strange, uncertain high school year

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After the 2020 OFSAA high school hockey championships were cancelled in March, every member of the powerhouse Aquinas Flames boys and girls teams was given a commemorative hoodie as a keepsake.

Dylan Dundas makes sure to wear his on a regular basis throughout the pandemic.

“It’s a little bit of a flex,” the 16-year-old winger said. “You’re kind of hoping somebody notices it. We had a really good shot of winning the tournament (in Niagara Falls). We had a good and skilled team and we would’ve gone in with a top seed.

“If we would’ve won it, we could’ve added a Champions patch to it, too.”

The uncertainty remains for the Flames and every other school. The 2021 OFSAA calendar have not been officially wiped out due to COVID-19, but there is no start to a new season on the horizon, either.

“You hope that if we can have a season in AAA, maybe we’ll have one in high school, too,” said Dundas, also part of the Elgin Middlesex Chiefs U18 squad waiting for a competitive go-ahead this fall. “When school got shut down at first, there was a lot of (video) gaming and sitting around at home. We have a close team at Aquinas, so after a couple of months, we started playing roller hockey in small groups every day.


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“In the summer, we’d book back-to-back-to-back tee times to golf so we could see each other there.”

There is another opportunity for camaraderie on its way.

For the past few weeks, the first two cohorts in the Hockey Canada Skills Academy offered through Aquinas and a handful of other London and area schools are back on the ice.

“We’re making it work through social distancing and small classes,” said Aquinas teacher and Flames coach Chad Palmer, who runs the three-year-old program at Nichols Arena. “There is no contact. It’s strictly skill development and you get a (physical education) credit for it. The administration wanted to keep speciality programs for student athletes because mental health and staying active is so important, especially at this time.”

In the Catholic board’s octomester system, each on-ice cohort will get to spend parts of five straight weeks on rink time. It creates a different vibe than the in-school setting, where there are no lockers and limited socializing from 8 a.m. to noon.

“You go right from the bus to your classroom and don’t really leave,” Palmer said. “At the rink, there is good energy. You have a small group, but a lot of smiles and laughter, which is needed. You have Grade 9 students coming in and it’s a tough way to start without the usual school activities. But with this program, they keep a nutritional journal to track their calories and interpret the data so they’re staying engaged online and also having fun on the ice.

“They’re just so happy to play the game they love.”

Dundas is looking forward to his time at the academy with the Grade 11 corps.

“It’s another chance to be on the ice with friends,” he said.

It’s not the OFSAA finals, but it’s as good as it gets right now.

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