Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Development Programs Inspire Young Athletes from Around the World to Go to the Next Level with Sport
Every July, hundreds of youngsters from across the country and around the globe cross over the threshold at Toronto’s Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence to take part in a unique program that sharpens their athletic skills and let’s them play alongside NHL pros.
These young aspiring athletes — boys and girls from novice to peewee — are enrolled in one of two unique one-week summer hockey schools that are part of a broader hockey development program run by the Toronto Maple Leafs, a large scale endeavour that includes on-ice clinics with Leaf players, training camps (including time on the Raptors basketball training court), learn to skate programs and an annual Coaches Open House held at the Air Canada Centre.
“Youth development has been an important mission for us for a long time,” says Greg Schell, Toronto Maple Leaf’s Hockey School Director. “The kids who come to us want division scholarships, they want to play on the Women’s Olympic team and in the NHL, or go to Harvard or Cornell. We want to help these young people build a championship vision in everything they do. We always say to kids who tell us they want to play in the NHL, ‘Why stop there? Why not aim to be a Hall of Famer?”
The Toronto Maple Leaf’s Hockey Development Program originated back in 1999, the by-product of the Open Ice Summit held in Toronto hosted by Hockey Canada. The summit brought together some of the greatest minds in hockey, including then President of the Toronto Maple Leafs Ken Dryden, to unite in a common mission to make Canada a great hockey country and to shape a vision for the sport that spanned all athletes from minor hockey players through to NHL superstars. “There were three recommendations coming out of that summit that we brought back to our organization and internalized. First, we needed to globalize the sport. Second, we needed to educate our coaches, and finally we needed to better develop our hockey players. And from those three goals, the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Development Program was born,” says Schell.
Greg Schell has headed the program from that time forward, taking the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Development Program nationwide and around the world, “We need to ensure that the game of hockey is better than anything else, that we hang onto our Gold Medal status and that we keep developing young athletes who might grow up to be tomorrow’s NHL stars.”
It is a unique program within the NHL. Other teams have youth education initiatives, but in the true spirit of the game, the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Development Program goes all in, with Schell, his team and athlete partners pouring their heart and soul into feeding young athlete’s passion for the game.
“We are solely dedicated to developing hockey players whether it is through experience programs like our hockey school, or other programs such as our coaches development program where we are providing coaches with access to experts who can help them learn and understand the game in a better way. No one else in the league, to my knowledge, is doing it to the level that we’re at.”
Over the last decade, more than 3,500 young athletes have benefitted from the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Development Program – with a good number moving on to achieve elite athlete status.
Says Schell, “Once upon a time, when Max Domi was 9 years old, he was on this ice. He was on this ice again when he was 10. That may have sparked his passion for the game. We did the same for Dougie Hamilton and Freddie Hamilton, and TJ Brodie. We’ve helped hockey, and we’ve helped the NHL collectively raise the bar by providing young athletes with experiences that are unlike anything else.”
The SportScreen was recently put into action at the Leaf’s July hockey schools. Working with the SportScreen team, Schell created customized versions of the screen featuring images of Maple Leafs goalies to provide youngsters, not only a shooting target, but a real authentic training experience. The custom screens will also be put into use this August at development clinics taking place in Halifax and again at the Tim Horton’s Coaches Open House which will serve as host to close to 2,000 coaches from all over North America. The screens may also travel with Schell and his team to China in the near future as part of a global initiative to bring the Leafs unique brand of hockey instruction to youths in Beijing, Shenzen and Shanghai.
“The SportsScreen is fantastic. It represents the next great thing, allowing kids to use technology to get the next level,” says Greg Schell. “It has great optics, it’s portable, discreet (hides under an awning) and it has appeal for all sports. When kids leave our programs, it’s an experience they carry with them. They want to shoot more, they want The SportsScreen, they want a new stick and their skates sharpened, all because of what we’ve given them here in our development program.”
Are you a player or parent interested in participating in the Toronto Maple Leafs Hockey Development Program? Spots fill up quickly, so check it out and register online.