Not everyone can be naturally bestowed with the skills of Gretzky, thereby heading straight to superstardom at eighteen like Sid the Kid. Therefore, those who can handle it, and more importantly those who are admitted into it, often attempt the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) route. There, a player can not only hone his hockey skills, but also receive a higher education – which comes in handy regardless of making it in the pros. THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
“I had a chance to play in the WHL, but I decided that I wanted to get a degree and go to school, which is why I chose the University path,” said Brendan Morrison, who graduated from the University of Michigan in 1997 with an Economics degree. In 1996 Morrison led the Wolverines to the NCAA Championship title. In his final year,
Morrison was the first player in Michigan history to receive the Hobey Baker Award as the top U.S. collegiate hockey player – beating out other notable future-NHL stars such as Jason Blake, Chris Drury, and Martin St. Louis.
However, Morrison’s quest to make it to the pros wasn’t his only motivation for choosing the NCAA approach.
“I was fortunate because the school I attended had a great hockey program, but it also had a strong reputation as a good school academically,” Morrison recounted. “And my parents were pretty proactive in stressing an education. So I knew that whatever happened, I would come out [of school] with some tangible knowledge on the ice – but more importantly a degree.”
Morrison’s commitment to education from an early age can also be seen through his involvement in a number of educational programs and initiatives spearheaded by the Canucks’ Community Partnerships Department. “Going to university definitely had an impact in terms of some of the community programs the team does and that I’m involved with,” the BC-boy said.
Morrison has been a supporter and face for the Raise-A-Reader program, which supports family literacy throughout BC; has participated in the Fin’s Friends program, which teaches character and social responsibility to elementary school children; and has volunteered numerous times alongside his wife Erin at the Canucks Family Education Centre, which offers educational services to Vancouver’s East side.
“It just opens up more doors for you,” the father of three said of his education. “The further you go in your education, the more opportunities that will come your way.”
”I definitely recommend college,” agreed veteran defenceman Aaron Miller, who graduated from the University of Vermont in 1993 with a degree in Small Business. “I know a lot of Canadian kids go a different route, but it was a great time in my life.” For Miller, who noted the divergence between American and Canadian players’ paths, the college-route was a conscious decision. “Being a U.S. kid, there was no thought of anything else,” the congenial Miller revealed. “I was playing hockey in high school and my main motivation was trying to get a scholarship. So college was really the only route that I ever thought about.”
Like Morrison and Miller, speedy centre Ryan Shannon chose the university-route to work on his game and his brain. “I went to a boarding school for high school, so my parents always stressed education,” stated Shannon, who graduated from Boston College in 2005 with an Economics degree. Shannon’s four years at BC were made even more enjoyable through pursuing sports both athletically and academically.
“The best class I took was a sports economics class, which had us do an analysis of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement,” recalled Shannon, observing the contextual-importance in today’s cap-era NHL. “It was a good backgrounder on sports economics and collective bargaining, and is probably something every player should know today.” HITTING THE BOOKS AND THE ICE
For anyone pursuing a higher education, just finding time in the day to keep from drowning in a sea of readings and essays can be exhausting. Therefore adding a full-time hockey regiment in a competitive national league on top of that requires some solid time management skills, and a whole lot of compromise.
“It was tough,” remarked Mason Raymond
, who spent two years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth pursuing a Communications degree before the expectations of Canuck-nation were thrust upon him this year. “We would have school in the morning, practice in the afternoon, get home and grab a bite to eat, and then either go to night classes or a game.” DELTA BETA ORCA?
While their focus may have primarily been on books and pucks, the college-educated Canucks were quick to highlight the social-benefits that came from campus-life.
“College was just such a complete experience for me,” the affable Morrison recollected. “Academically and athletically it was so important, but socially as well. College builds character, and focuses on the person as a whole too, which is important.”
Like his fellow graduates, the social aspect was also paramount for Miller. “I probably loved everything about University but going to class,” the unassuming-jokester said with a laugh. “I made a lot of lifelong friends. Just the whole social experience was so great. I got a great education, I live [in Vermont] now and I met my wife there. So it probably was the best four years of my life in terms of having fun and learning.” DOWN THE ROAD
For those who took the college-route, the overwhelming consensus has been that it really was a win-win situation. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. It was the best time of my life,” Raymond reminisced. “Where can you go wrong with an education?”
You would think that after making it in the game they love so much, the last thing a player would be thinking of is school. However, for the college-enlightened Canucks, what appears to have been imparted on them is that as great a game as hockey is, there is more to life than putting pucks in the net.
“Well I graduated with a degree in small business,” said future entrepreneur Aaron Miller, “So maybe when I’m done with hockey I’ll put it to good-use and be my own boss!”
And while their focus is on the ice now, there is no doubt that the diplomas on the wall are something that have shaped the Canucks into the superstars they are today.