Hank Acres is back in Sweden already, ramping up for his first season as a coach with his former club, but closer to home it’s evident the hockey school that bears his name continues to lay the foundation for future students of the game.
As always, this year’s Acres Hockey school, the ninth annual, featured many local players and plenty of Islanders in general, as well as players from the Lower Mainland, Alberta, Manitoba and internationals from the U.S. and as far as Hong Kong.
Acres, 37, was raised in Ontario and moved here in 1992 with family and attended Ballenas Secondary School. A dedicated (and decorated) defenseman in his playing days, Acres laced up for the hometown Generals for two seasons (1992/’93); went on to play Junior A with the Nanaimo Clippers and Victoria Salsa, and made the jump to play semi-pro in Europe 10 years ago.
He launched his school in the spring of 2003 with the help of family and friends.
Six students turned out that first year, and it has grown from there.
Fast forward to this year, and just over 70 players (boys and girls) aged four to 15 turned out for the one week school (July 29-Aug. 2).
Acres himself even seemed impressed with how far the school has come, but his commitment to the kids goes well beyond the ice as he continues to add other elements to the school.
“Most definitely … it’s getting closer to my vision, but it’s like life, it’ll never be finished.”
This year’s school featured a great cast of supporters.
Former Canuck Cliff Ronning and his company BASE Hockey was there teaching shooting on and off the ice
“Use of video will be incorporated,” Acres said, “very cool use of technology that each player will receive a video of their shot overlapped with Cliff or Al Ifarate for slapshots, after the school week. Along with personalized shooting tips and drills.”
Dr. Saul Miller, an American sports psychologist who has worked with the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL made the trip here to talk to players about the mental side of hockey and how to become a complete player.
Impakt Protective from Ottawa donated a Shockbox — an impact alert sensor for players to test on their helmets during the week.
The high-tech helmets alert parents and coaches by sending info to their smartphone when the player has received an impact.
The dry-land portion of the camp was overseen by Dayna Harstad, former National Team member and 2003 Canadian Women’s Welterweight Taekwondo champion turned personal trainer.
Matt Auerbach, equipment manager for the WHL’s Victoria Royals, was there teaching the kids about the importance of properly fitting equipment, skates and helmets.
There was a free concussion awareness seminar open to the public and to parents of kids in all sports put on by Colleen Butler, Founder of Brian Navigators, and along the way there were games, prizes, and pizza day from Boston Pizza.
While Acres oversees all the skaters, the goalie training by Progressive Goaltending provides the stoppers with personalized video analysis.
This year’s camp proved to be particularly rewarding for Acres, as he realized his dream of creating the Michal Vincent Acres Memorial Bursary.
“It’s what I’m proudest of this summer,” he said easily when The News caught up with him between classes.
Michal was Acres’ brother who passed way in a house fire at the age of three on Jan. 12, 1985.
“This bursary has been a goal of mine since the creation of the hockey school,” said Acres, and explained how “working together with the Rotary Club of Parksville, we have created an opportunity based on financial need to provide free admission to the school for a minimum of three participants in 2012 (for more information go to www.acreshockey.com).”
While here, Acres was also working with the Oceanside Minor Hockey Association “to create some other projects during the weeks I am available to be in Parksville .. .I am a big believer in all the work OMHA does to provide hockey for our youth, and anything I can do to help bring and keep more kids involved in hockey I am willing to do.”
In the end, all 10 kids that applied were able to be part of the school, “almost all as full bursary recipients.”
“Our goal this year was to provide a minimum of three bursaries,” said Acres, pointing out they exceeded that number with the donations received and Acres Hockey sponsored the other half.
“The whole program is designed to promote playing safe, having fun and dreaming big. All of our add-ons are related to keeping you safe. Improving base skills (skating, shooting, passing, stick handling) is the best method to stay safe and have more fun out on the ice. I know minor hockey coaches are volunteers and they do their best,”he said, “but I implore all coaches to be overly positive while building relationships and confidence in these young people. Speaking with many players during the school, there are a growing number of players that don’t believe their coaches believe in them and want them to succeed.”
The main goal of his program, he said, “is to provide an exceptional hockey school experience for players in the mid-island region without the added costs of travel/accommodation that are required to attend programs in the Okanagan (or other places).”
Acres’ coaching debut came last year as an assistant coach in charge of defensive play with the Steel Bulls out of Dunaujvaros, Hungary.
“We had a very successful season,” he said of the team, which won two of a possible four titles.
The Steel Bulls competed in two leagues last year, playing the regular season in the MOL League made up of teams from Hungary and Romania, and also in the Austrian National League, the second highest league in Austria.
Fast forward to today and Acres is gearing up for his first season as a coach with his longtime club Asplöven HC, which is making the jump up this season to Hockey Allsvenskan, the second highest pro league in Sweden (comparable in North America to lower AHL and top ECHL level of play).
The new position is a homecoming of sorts for him as he spent five seasons playing for Asplöven HC and it is also where he met his wife Christina, who has her hands full with their twins, William and Emma, now two-and-a-half. The family resides in Christina’s hometown of Haparanda, a small coastal town on the Swedish/Finish border.
Acres said he will be back at Oceanside Place next year overseeing the on-ice coaching at Acres Hockey, which will be moved to the beginning of July.