One of the premier scholastic hockey academies in North America just opened its doors in Cranberry Township.
A joint effort of the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex and Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School, the EXCEL Hockey Academy offers students a unique combination of a traditional high school education with daily ice time and world-class hockey training.
Academy students attend classes at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic each weekday morning, then head to the nearby UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex for hockey training in the early afternoon.
"A lot of other academies utilize home school-style education, where they basically set up classrooms at a hockey rink," said Rich Hixon, president of the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, which is also the official practice facility of the Pittsburgh Penguins. "EXCEL Hockey Academy is different. Students can experience all the benefits of a traditional high school environment, both educationally and socially - including playing other sports - while having the necessary time each afternoon to develop into the best hockey player possible."
The students' daily academic schedules run from 7:55 a.m. to 1:15 p.m., with courses available in math, science, English, social studies, world language and religion. Hockey training begins at 1:50, with 70 minutes of skating and skill development followed by 45 minutes of off-ice training. The schedule concludes each day with a one-hour study/homework period from 4:00-5:00 p.m.
There also are special seminars on leadership, sports nutrition, performance training, sports medicine and sports business management from experts in each field.
Nutritional plans are offered through the Training Table at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, overseen by Geoff Straub, executive chef for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Most academy members will play Tier I AAA hockey for Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, one of the nation's finest youth hockey programs. They also will work with a world-class staff of professionals at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, including Brian Mueller, executive director of hockey development and programming; Danny McKinnon, Pittsburgh Penguins Elite hockey director; and Ty Hennes, skill development professional.
EXCEL Hockey Academy's inaugural school year began on August 21 with 28 high school students. Twenty are from the tri-state area, while eight relocated from cities across North America.
The Academy also offers a streamlined middle school program for students in the 6th, 7th and 8th grades. Thirty middle schoolers will take part in on-ice and off-ice training three days a week, two hours a day, from September to March. The middle school program runs from 3:30-5:30 p.m., giving students plenty of time to participate in other school-related activities.
The program is co-ed.
"We are very excited to be at the forefront of this initiative," said Luke Crawford, principal of Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School. "The EXCEL Hockey Academy offers young men and women the opportunity to get a first-class college preparatory education while adapting their schedule in such a way that they can continue to pursue their goals on the ice. We are very pleased to have developed a curriculum with a full offering of honors level and Advanced Placement (AP) classes that will give each of the academy students the type of foundation needed to succeed at the post-secondary academic level.
"With the caliber of students we see applying for admission into the academy and the level of work ethic that has been displayed by the inaugural EXCEL class, I am very confident that these young men and women are going to move on to the top colleges and universities in the nation and succeed both in the classroom and on the ice."