If there's one thing that the Winnipeg Jets Alumni & Friends group knows, it's that hard work pays off. None of them would have made it as far as they did in their hockey careers without countless hours of hard work both on and off the ice.
Now that their careers are over, it's their goal to promote that hard-work mentality in the next generation. One of the ways they do that annually is through two $2,500 Manitoba High School Athletics Association Winnipeg Jets Alumni & Friends Scholarships awarded annually to one male and one female hockey player in Manitoba's high school hockey system. This year's students, Jayde Boyechko of Murdoch MacKay Collegiate and Zachary DeGraeve of Treherne Collegiate, were recognized for their on-ice skills as well as for their leadership within their school and community.
"It's a privilege for us to receive so many applications for the scholarships as we get to see the many amazing hockey players we have in this province and how involved they are in their communities," said Jordy Douglas, President of the Alumni & Friends Association. "Jayde and Zachary are prime examples of the values that we stand for, such as working hard, leading with integrity, and contributing to the community."
For DeGraeve, receiving the award certainly does make it feel like his hard work on and off the ice has paid off.
"Athletics did not come easy to me for a long time, but I worked very hard to improve myself mentally, physically, and emotionally," said DeGraeve. "I've always loved learning new things. I pushed myself during my free time to learn concepts beyond the curriculum. It never felt like work to me in sports or school though. I was so passionate about what I was doing that I rarely stopped to think about the time and energy I was spending."
Boyechko, meanwhile, has grown up playing ringette and only joined her high school hockey team two years ago. Don't let the short time span fool you; she's put in a lot of hard work over those two years of hockey to get to where she is.
"I'm happy to be recognized in this sport and for my academic abilities after only two years in the game," said Boyechko. "It helps prove to me that if I do whatever I can to the best of my ability, I can accomplish so much more in life."
Boyechko certainly had her work cut out for her over her two seasons. Not only has she had to keep the different rules of hockey and ringette straight as she continued to play both throughout high school but she was also her team's "Swiss Army Knife", filling in at seemingly every position.
"I started out as a forward and moved back to defence when I was needed to fill a spot. I was also the backup goalie, however I never had to step in," said Boyechko, who plays goaltender for her ringette team. "From knowing and refereeing ringette, I still try passing over the blue line, but instead I get called for offside in hockey."
The Winnipeg Jets Alumni & Friends weren't the only ones to recognize the efforts of DeGraeve and Boyechko, as they both played prominent leadership roles on their hockey teams.
Leading by example was something DeGraeve tried to exemplify in each practice and game.
"One important part of being a leader is for me to display the same behaviour I expected of my teammates. I was never the most gifted goal scorer or puck handler, but I trained very hard at practice and at home to improve. My goal was to have my work ethic in practice and at games push my teammates."
Boyechko, who was captain of her team this year, focused on creating positivity and ensuring that everyone knew their role on the team was important.
"As a leader I try displaying happiness and encouragement to the girls to ensure they all know the value they have on our team and what their skills do to make us the team that we are."
It comes as no surprise that Boyechko and DeGraeve's leadership skills have been shining outside of hockey too. Both have experienced the impact of others volunteering their time to give them opportunities, and they have shown their own commitment to giving back.
"I am constantly looking for ways to give back to the sports of hockey and ringette as well as to the community. I enjoy spending my time helping those who need help getting back on their feet, and especially those who are in the hospital fighting for their lives," said Boyechko, who plans to pursue a career as a pediatric oncologist. "I took on coaching for the first time this year. Coaching ringette has taught me ways to work with and motivate young players and my peers."
"My favourite childhood memories were made possible by community volunteers. I owe it to my community to give back for everything they gave me," said DeGraeve, who this year was an assistant coach for the junior varsity boys volleyball team and head coach for the junior varsity boys basketball team. "The part I enjoyed most with coaching was seeing the players improve over the course of the season. I also really enjoyed connecting with the players and growing their confidence."
Though the scholarships revolve around hockey, the attributes shown by DeGraeve and Boyechko are at the heart of what the awards are all about for Douglas.
"Our goal as Jets alumni is to promote hockey in Manitoba. We of course want people to enjoy the game that all of us enjoy, but there is much more to hockey than just playing the game on ice. We believe it instills characteristics in players that will serve them the rest of their lives, whether they are on the ice or not."
DeGraeve and Boyechko are both certain that the lessons they've learned from hockey will no doubt pay off for them down the road as they move on from high school.
"Hockey taught me a lot about responsibility and teamwork which are both going to translate into my life going forward," noted DeGraeve. "I learned how to be responsible for preparation, the impact of my actions and the actions of my teammates, and the success of my team when we all play a role."
"After taking on hockey only two years ago, I became much more motivated and determined to learn more every practice," added Boyechko. "Those attributes will give me strength and inspiration to do my best at school and at work to prove that if I want something, I can achieve it through the work ethic and the courage I gained through sport and other experiences in my life."