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Willie Desjardins to lead hockey academy for PRSD


Complete with a contract inking and a Sportscentre-styled top 10 delivered by administrators, Willie Desjardins has been signed to lead a new hockey academy program of the Prairie Rose School Division.

The former Medicine Hat Tigers, NHL, Team Canada coach will begin the program this fall, with registration starting this week.

It would operate three schools, with junior highs in Irvine and Redcliff acting as feeder for Eagle Butte High School in Dunmore.

Administrators framed it as an offering for rural students that would expand programming and perhaps attendance.

The former NHL coach, who has lived in Medicine Hat since joining the Western Hockey League Tigers in 2004, said teaching young players is something he’s passionate about.

“To me, it’s about building good citizens and good leaders,” said Desjardins at a press conference at the division’s offices in Dunmore. “To be part of seeing kids do things they think they can’t do, it’s always pretty special.”

The academy would offer on and off ice training, academic monitoring and course work on leadership, said Desjardins.

Administrators expect perhaps about 80 participants this fall, but say numbers will determine how the program operates. Negotiations only began earlier this month, and parents can register now online or by contacting the district’s main office.

“We are always striving to do the best for our rural and smaller town students, and this is another example,” said Trustee Kathy Hogg, the board’s vice-chair. “It’s been a whirlwind, and I think it will turn into something great.”

The endeavour is a franchise of Global Sports Academies Global Sports academy. That group operates in agreement with four boards around Calgary to offer programming there, including the city’s major public and separate boards as well as those in Okotoks and Airdrie.

First-year fees could range between $2,500 and $3,000, said assistant superintendent Reagan Weeks, with a large portion required for busing.

The on-ice portions would be held at the Irvine Ag Society Rink and the Rec-Tangle in Redcliff.

Weeks said beyond Desjardins’ accomplishments in the world of hockey — he most recently coached Team Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics — the Climax, Sask. native is a trained educator.

“We know he’ll be an excellent fit for our organization,” said Weeks.

Desjardins holds a bachelors degree of education from the University of Saskatchewan, where he played university hockey after a WHL career. He earned a social work degree at the University of Calgary where he coached under national team coach Dave King, then joined the Hockey Canada.

Desjardins led the WHL Tigers to league titles in 2004 and 2007, then won an American Hockey League title with the Dallas Stars farm team before joining the Vancouver Canucks as head coach in 2014. He was fired by the Canucks after the 2016-17 season.