Shaftesbury High School will become home in September to an elite hockey academy for girls that could recruit dozens of the top young female hockey players in Manitoba.
The Pembina Trails School Division has partnered with local organization 2 Nations Female Hockey to operate the academy for the next three years, said PTSD superintendent Lawrence Lussier.
"They proposed they recruit as many as 40 to 45 of the top female hockey players in Manitoba," Lussier said.
"They'd be fully integrated into the life of the school."
Lussier said the students would be eligible to attend Shaftesbury under schools-of-choice policies. With a capacity of 700 students, the Tuxedo school has about 100 empty desks.
"Our hope is we'd have one team of 20 to 25 girls in grades 9 and 10, and 20 in grades 11 and 12," Lussier said.
Shaftesbury would provide the education for the student athletes, while 2 Nations would provide on- and off-ice training, as well as a kinesiologist and a sports psychologist.
The students would play exhibition games and tournaments against other elite girls' teams in the western provinces and the northern United States, but would not play in Winnipeg's high school league or against Winnipeg minor hockey teams, he said.
Lussier said training is not expected to conflict with class schedules, but the students would likely miss some Friday classes when leaving for tournaments.
"They came to us -- we started talking in September," he said.
The new Shaftesbury academy is taking minor hockey teams by surprise and it's causing concern about how many top players will be "skimmed off," said Peter Woods, executive director of Hockey Manitoba.
Woods said he first heard about the academy in an email last week. The top level of hockey for girls here is AA, which has a dozen teams in the 13- to 17-year-old age group in Manitoba, mostly in and around Winnipeg, Woods said.
"There's a respect for the existing organizations we have. There's a finite number of players.
"There's certainly some concern there, taking a number of players outside the system," he said.
Manitoba High Schools Athletic Association executive director Maurice Glimcher said he's been getting calls about 2 Nations. While he knows very little so far, Glimcher said, "Basically, they're not allowed to recruit kids."
Glimcher said high schools must adhere to MHSAA rules, which ban recruiting student athletes attending other schools; the students must take the initiative to contact Shaftesbury and ask to enrol, he said.
Mike McGetrick, spokesman for 2 Nations, said by email the organization is not yet ready to release details. He declined to say where the girls would train or which arena the program would use, and would not say how much 2 Nations would charge each girl's parents in fees.
"We are early in the planning stages and will need more time before we can provide comment on this new exciting initiative for female hockey," McGetrick said.