U of NB continues to look to SJHL

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Submitted by SJHL A common goal for any Junior 'A' hockey player is to further his career, mainly through advancing to the NCAA south of the border; however a few SJHL alumni have had success staying in Canada and getting an education here. Furthermore, Sask-atchewan Junior Hockey League grads are finding elite level programs in the CIS are every bit as difficult, or maybe even tougher to crack, than those in the NCAA. Former Melville Millionaire Dion Campbell is entering his fourth year of Kinesiology at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, where the Reds have won two national championships in his three years of being on the team. UNB, simply put, could probably put the boots to a number of NCAA clubs on a regular basis. And their head coach is Gardiner MacDougall, who is more than familiar with the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League through his coaching days in the mid 1990s with the now defunct Lebret Eagles. He also cut his teeth in Flin Flon as an assistant. MacDougall says there is pressure to keep UNB on top of the CIS hockey world on a yearly basis, although the goal is development and improvement. 'When we meet in September, our goal is to be most improved. It's a competitive league. The players that come here make the choice because of hockey, but we've had as many as ten Academic All-Canadians. We also had four NHL contracts in five years. 'But every year it starts new. We start fresh,' says MacDougall. Campbell saw the Varsity Reds on television and was hooked. 'I watched UNB win in 2007 on TV, and I knew right away I wanted to play for that team. Brad McEwen had coached with Gardiner in Lebret and he made a call for me. Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Freder-icton,' said Campbell, who had scholarship offers to go south. 'I didn't know much about the CIS other than having friends on Alberta and Saskatchewan. When I watched UNB play Saskatchewan in the semi-finals in 2007, I was blown away by how good they were. I also thought that maybe in college hockey, guys are more concerned with school and don't take hockey seriously; but I quickly learned at UNB that school and hockey are of equal importance and there are high expectations in both the classroom and on the ice.' MacDougall agrees. He points to the fact they have seven players on the Dean's List. There are Engineering and Geomatic Engineering students on the team. 'Players are also coming out of major junior and seeing these education packages with CIS teams. It's also now proven that there is hockey in front of you. Also, a lot of players already have credits and can get degrees in two or three years and then move onto the pros if they still want to. There are plenty of top end players realizing that without an NHL contract, school is a better option than a two-way contract. Homework They are doing their own homework and seeing the CIS is able to provide a way to play elite level hockey and also get the university degree started before the pro career gets off the ground.' MacDougall will continue to look at the SJHL for roster recruits. 'We have had a lot of luck, not only with Dion, but also with players like Graham Slender, Calvin Watson, and Darren Shokotko. 90 percent are major junior, but I stll think we've had success with Junior 'A' guys and we'd look for more. Dion has been terrific. He didn't know anybody here and has worked his way into a role with our hockey team. He has been a top six player at times. His work ethic and dedication to fitness is outstanding. We have high pedigrees and he's in the top five.' MacDougall says players should not under estimate the CIS, especially the elite programs. 'We hosted nationals and had four thousand fans at every game. We compare favorably with any NCAA school. We played Boston College and split after we both won our national championships. We are 6-and-2 against NCAA teams. Many players move on to the East Coast Hockey League and a number of those get opportunities higher than that. We play 50 games a year and practice 112 times. You can't help but get better as a player. It's a maturation process as a player and a person. Time management is something everyone has to learn.' 'Fredericton is a good sized city. The school has 9,000 students and the population here is about 75,000. We are the big thing in town as far as hockey. We don't have a major junior program here. We had 15 major junior captains on our team last year. Recruiting is key and people come here with big dreams. So, we help fulfill those,' said MacDougall. Those dreams are not necessarily in hockey either. Jesse Ferguson was 19-years-old when he completed his grade twelve. He wasn't a good student, but became an All-Canadian and was All-Academic by his fourth year. He became an accountant and met his wife in Fredericton. She's a doctor and now they've settled in Calgary. MacDougall says his time in the SJHL was a good opportunity. 'I still follow it and there are still coaches I know coaching in the league. I like to see the league do well.' _ Reprinted from the first edition of Overtime magazine, available in arenas throughout the SJHL

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