Some Starbuck students have to haul more than just textbooks, notebooks and pens each day —they also have to bring their hockey sticks, skates and helmets with them.
The students are all enrolled in the Starbuck Hockey Academy.
Grade 8 student Leif Mattson drives from Stonewall to Winnipeg with his parents every morning. From there, he takes the school bus to Starbuck.
Mattson said he doesn’t mind the trips since they allow him to be on the ice more.
"The education here is really good, but the fact that I get to play hockey is pretty amazing," he said.
The Starbuck Hockey Academy is entering its 13th year of operation. It’s been so popular that a third class was added this year. Parents pay $1,200 per year for their kids to receive hockey training in addition to their regular education. Students receive 100 days of on-ice instruction between September and spring break
Sixty-eight students in Grades 5 to 8 spend an hour every morning playing hockey at the indoor rink in Starbuck. They take part in drills that develop fundamental skills such as shooting, passing and skating backwards.
"When I was growing up, I only had the outdoor rink. Things have changed since then," said Starbuck coach Curt Ketchen.
Students are allowed to learn at their own pace. The primary focus of practice is to improve hockey skills, Ketchen said.
After the morning skate, students trade in their navy blue hockey jerseys for street clothes. After that comes a snack break, and then the students move to classrooms situated above the rink.
Students don’t take their studies lightly, Ketchen said. The academy ensures that all students complete their assignments and maintain acceptable grades or they aren’t allowed on the ice.
Grades are rarely an issue for most student-athletes.
"Because they’re on the ice first thing in the morning, I find they focus more. They’re not as rowdy and rambunctious," said English teacher Jocelyn Keinanen.
Keinanen also enjoys the tight-knit atmosphere of the hockey academy. She said it creates a bond that brings students and teachers together.
"It’s a nice small town feeling," she said.
The majority of the academy’s students come from Winnipeg, while others, such as Mattson, are from towns throughout Manitoba.
Mattson said without the school, he might only have hockey practice two or three times a week. With the academy, he practices his hockey skills up to seven or eight times every week.
"Hockey is pretty much my life," he said. "I keep working at it because I want to go somewhere one day."
The Starbuck Hockey Academy is located in the former Starbuck Consolidated School.