The Detroit News
Wixom — Derek Langlois, the lead on-ice instructor at the Detroit Hockey Academy, stood to the left of the net and along the goal line of the larger of two practice rinks.
He fired a series of pucks up along the glass, out toward a line of four players 30 feet away. Each player grappled with a difficult puck to handle, gained possession, abruptly and laterally skated left, and fired a shot toward the net.
Defensemen call it “walking the line.”
On and on the drill went, puck along the glass after puck along the glass, possession after possession, shot after shot. Then, Langlois led some skating drills.
And so hockey class went for the day.
Before and after hockey class, the four players were in academic classes in a room just beyond the fitness room.
The school day for the 23 students enrolled in grades 6-12 at the Detroit Hockey Academy, owned in part by former Red Wings goaltender Manny Legace, is both traditional and modern. Hockey lessons are mixed with academic learning, every day, unless a student’s school work lags. Then, ice time may be denied.
The annual tuition is $12,000.
“They’re teaching me a ton,” said Ruby McCall, of Birmingham, after she stepped off the ice. McCall was one of four girls participating in the drills.
“They really point out, like when you do something wrong, you always get help with it.”
When they play on their local teams after school, the coaches do not always have time to provide the same individual attention as they practice their full squads for games, McCall and the other students say.
“And just getting the extra ice time too, it’s awesome,” McCall said.
If she was not attending Detroit Hockey Academy, the 14-year-old said, she likely would attend a local middle school with no hockey classes.
At McCall’s age, the intensive, individual instruction, especially in skating skills, is important.
Important enough that Henry Graham, 15, moved to Metro Detroit from Manhattan to enroll.
“It’s my passion,” Graham said after looking strong in hockey class in brisk goaltender drills against three shooters, including another student, A.J. Walczak, a co-owner and assistant director of the school, and Frank Furdero, director of player development.
“My game’s become much more smooth. I’m a lot more confident in my play every single time I’m on the ice.”
Former Wings lead school
Among the other members of the leadership team at the Detroit Hockey Academy are Legace and his wife, Gigi Legace, an academic learning coach.
Former Red Wing Joe Kocur is a coaching consultant.
“I live in New York,” Graham said. “So coming out here is a big change.
“A.J. and Manny have helped so much, and the school has been great. I’m learning a lot in the classroom and I’ve learned a lot on the ice.”
Manny Legace played 365 games in 11 NHL seasons, and coaching and consulting with goaltenders in the Columbus Blue Jackets system.
“We were talking about this for years, when I was still playing,” Legace said. “After five, six years of talking about it, it finally came to fruition.
“What makes it different is that we’re not a team. Every student plays for a team, but it’s all individual skills, that’s how we built it.
“We’ve got one coach and a few players, maximum, on the ice. Or, it might just be one, depending on the day, depending on what we’re trying to work with, with that kid, and where we’re trying to go with that student.”
It is a different approach. Hockey boarding schools are familiar throughout the United States and Canada. But they offer education and affiliated hockey teams.
At the Detroit Hockey Academy, students get digital instruction in the classroom, through the state-approved Michigan Virtual School Curriculum, under the supervision of learning coaches. A class period per day is dedicated to hockey.
After school, the students play on local teams like Victory Honda and the Lakeview Hawks. The coaches at the schools stay in touch with the coaches of the teams so the students have a unified approach to their training.
“The big thing for us is: School first,” Legace said. “So the kids know that. The parents know that.
“Our class average the first semester was 3.4, and they were all over 3.0, which was huge.”
Adjusting to online classes
The students say class instruction live and interactively on their personal computers and managing their time takes some getting used to. But they found they could accommodate it.
It helps when the online instructors check in on their work with occasional phone calls, in addition to the in-class monitoring and the learning coaches.
“It takes a little bit of an adjustment, but it’s nice,” said Graham who, like McCall, is intent on attending college and playing hockey. “You know, you manage your own time. It takes a lot of responsibility.
“But I think after the first semester in it, everybody kind of got the hang of it.
“And, when you get your classes done, you can go out on the ice.”
Had he and his family not heard about the Detroit Hockey Academy, Graham said, he would have attended Ridley College, a private college preparatory school in St. Catharines, Ontario, with a strong hockey program.
The students and their parents have learned about the Detroit Hockey Academy by word of mouth and some limited marketing with pamphlets handed out at local tournaments.
Walczak played in the Ontario Hockey League and the East Coast Hockey League, has coached goaltenders in the NHL, AHL, NCAA and other levels, and works with Legace in the Blue Jackets system.
He said when students from traditional schools visit, they are attracted by the easy availability of time on the ice and in the gym.
“At a traditional school, when you’re done with your work, you just kind of sit in class,” he said. “Here, you can go shoot pucks, you can go in the gym, you can even go back out on to the ice and get extra ice time, if your grades are up to par.
“Other than that, they’re on the ice for roughly one hour per day, for training purposes.”
Detroit Hockey Academy
Where: 50950 Century Court, Wixom
Students: The academy is for students going into grades 6-12. There are currently 23 students, including four girls.
Tuition: $12,000 per year
Set-up: Students take classes with the Michigan Virtual Curriculum under the supervision of the academy. They have access to two rinks and are guaranteed one hour of hockey training each day. All the students then play for their travel hockey teams.
Owners: Manny Legace and A.J. Walczak