Darian Harris hopes to fast-track his way to the big leagues by packing four seasons’ worth of hockey into a single school year.
To help further his ambitions, the 15-year-old right winger from Stz’uminus First Nation has moved to Victoria to attend the Pacific Coast Hockey Academy.
Harris is one of 17 elite Vancouver Island Minor Midget hockey players who will train with the academy through its first year in operation.
Under the watchful eye of PCHA coach Kelly Shields — who will be aided, in turn, by current and former NHL players, college and university coaches and Junior hockey coaches — Harris and his puck-handling peers will hone their skills both on and off the ice for a minimum of 12.5 hours each week from now through June. A typical minor hockey team, by comparison, plays only twice a week through a far shorter season, Harris said, meaning that he and his PCHA Pacific Sea Devils teammates will log four seasons’ worth of ice time by year’s end.
He’s only been involved with the program for a few weeks now, but Harris is convinced PCHA has already helped him improve at “everything” hockey-related.
Harris plans to use his year at the academy as a “stepping stone to Major Midget,” he said, and he anticipates spending “a year or two” at the next level before graduating to the WHL, preferably as a Tri-City American.
Harris’s ultimate goal is to play in the NHL, he said, but he has “no clue” what professional team he would like to eventually suit up for.
Harris is focused, instead, on Pacific Sea Devils’ hockey and schoolwork. He spends Monday and Wednesday mornings studying Grade 10 math, science, English and socials at the WestShore Centre for Learning and Training. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings, meanwhile, are spent completing assignments either from home or at the rink, he said, and the remainder of his week is devoted to hockey.
A typical weekday afternoon consists of on-ice time at the Bear Mountain Arena followed by dryland training at the Ice Centre for Excellence, PCHA’s home rink, Harris said, with weekends devoted to games and tournaments.
Daunting though it may be, their training regimen has already begun to pay off.
At a recent tournament, a coach from Penticton’s Okanagan Hockey Academy suggested that Vancouver Island players weren’t skilled enough to compete against their mainland peers. It was an opinion the Pacific Sea Devils saw fit to challenge.
“We played them in that tournament and we beat them 3–2,” Harris said.
In closing, the former Bantam AAA Cowichan Capital summed up his hockey prep school experience by stating: “I love it here.”
Pacific Sea Devils coach and PCHA founder Kelly Shields referred to Harris as “a very skilled hockey player.”
The Pacific Sea Devils visited Vancouver in mid-September to take part in their first tournament of the year, Shields said, competing against teams from the province’s top hockey prep schools and academies.
While facing off against “the best competition of 15 year olds in the province,” Harris “scored a couple of really big goals” for his team, Shields added.
“He’s got good speed and he’s a really skilled player,” Shields explained, “and at 15, he still hasn’t fully grown.
“Our program gives kids an opportunity to grow and develop as 15 year olds so that they’re ready to step into the role of a 16 year old when they’re physically and mentally ready to take on that role.”
Tim Harris, Darian’s father, said he’s “really proud” of his son, adding that “there’s not a ton of elite First Nation players” competing at Major Junior and professional levels.
To help Darian realize his potential, Tim will pay PCHA $17,000 over the course of the year.
Tim hopes to raise at least part of that sum through donations and fundraisers, he said.
Any hockey fans interested in donating to Darian’s cause can reach Tim by phone at 250-245-3522 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.