The University of New Brunswick has not only produced three national championship winning teams in the past five years, it has also helped foster dozens of professional hockey careers.
Not only has UNB become a top development program in Canada with four recent UNB players inking NHL contracts, but its youth program has also been garnering considerable attention.
Thirty-six players drafted to the National Hockey League (NHL) are linked by their participation in hockey development camps held at UNB or by playing for the well known V-Reds Prospects elite development program.
Since 2002, the UNB V-Red Prospects Program has held development camps for players of all ages ranging from their upcoming Junior Advanced Camp to next week’s Crimson Camp featuring major junior and professional players. The intensive week-long camps focus on a player’s growth – both as a athlete and as a person.
“We have the philosophy that they’re going to be people longer than they’re going to be hockey players,” said Gardiner MacDougall, head coach of the UNB Varsity Reds men's hockey team and a Prospects director. “We try to ingrain key values that are going to help them in both aspects.”
In the past nine years, 255 prospects have been drafted in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), 36 in the NHL (with four being selected in the first round of both 2010 and 2011), and five prospects have played for Team Canada in the World Junior U-20 tournament.
“We think it’s pretty exciting. It’s humbling in a lot of ways,” MacDougall said of having such talent take part in the Prospects program. “The kids see an opportunity and they take full advantage of it. It’s all about growing your dreams.”
The Prospects program runs different camps for different ages. A number of Skills and Drills and AAA development camps are held throughout the season, but the majority of the camps take place during the summer.
On a typical day at the UNB Senior Advanced Camp – known as Eastern Canada’s top development opportunity, the prospective players will go on the ice three times.
They also participate in testing similiar to the NHL combine fitness tests, so players can gauge their fitness level. Most lunch hours feature a guest speaker (usually a player who has been drafted or a member of the Varsity Reds). Other feature presentations include prominent members of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) or pro hockey. In the summer, UNB alumnus and Memorial Cup champion coach Mike Kelly was a feature guest while popular UNB sports psychology professor and Montreal Canadians staff David Scott also spoke.
After lunch, the players engage in either a three-on-three or four-on-four tournament.
The week is highlighted with a mock NHL draft, where each player is selected to a team and has a picture taken by team photographer Brian Smith.
“It’s certainly one of our highlights and it really sets up an action-packed week,” MacDougall said. “They go from bright and early to late at night, but that’s part of the theme. It’s a microcosm of life in major junior hockey. We have had eight recent camp participants get drafted at our UNB camp just two years ago and then get selected to the NHL.”
Participating in the invitational camp is a big opportunity for players. Scouts from the NHL and the QMJHL attend. Former NHL Boston Bruins scout Don Matheson was a prominent part of the camp.
“The group puts on an excellent work ethic, excellent attitudes, and even though they’re competing hard against one another on the ice, it seems like one big family,” MacDougall said.
The hard work has paid off for the hockey players. The ‘92 V-Red Prospects (players who were born in 1992) have been the most successful group that the program has seen.
This year, four players from that group were drafted in the first round of the NHL entry draft – Gabriel Landeskog to Colorado, Sean Couturier to Philadelphia, Nathan Beaulieu to Montreal and local stand-out Zack Phillips to Minnesota. Overall, an amazing 17 players from this spring team coached by UNB alumnus Roger Shannon were drafted to the NHL. Shannon was the co-chair for the 2011 CIS National Championships is the general manager for the Varsity Reds Hockey program and has been a prominent general manager in the QMJHL.
“That group was probably the top spring team in Eastern North America and had travelled internationally to Europe,” MacDougall said of the ‘92 Prospects.
A lifelong experience
While many of the players from the Prospects program forge futures in the hockey world, some of the players take their time spent at UNB as a different kind of learning experience.
“A lot of the players in our camps and our Prospects program have come here and decided to come to UNB to go to school rather than pursue hockey,” MacDougall said. “We’ve had a number of players who decided to get a UNB university education out of this, which is neat as well. Our motto here at UNB is ‘making a significant difference’ and we are certainly fortunate that this can happen here at UNB in a number of different ways.”
In March, UNB will again host the CIS national men's hockey championship, the Cavendish Cup. Last year, the team captured the CIS championship on home ice.
“It was winning our NHL Stanley Cup as we had unbelievable crowd support and a tremendous atmosphere at the Aitken Centre for the championships,” MacDougall said. “We’re fortunate to recruit great people who have big dreams, have great facilities here at the Aitken Centre and we’ve had great support from UNB all along the way.”