By Daniel Fink | AHL On The Beat
When it comes to hockey, there’s no tried and true path to reach the professional ranks. While every player needs the dedication and work ethic to achieve their goals, the avenues from which they arrive are varied.
Players reach the American Hockey League from Major Junior, Junior-A, NCAA, U Sports (Canadian University) and European junior and professional leagues. They also might pursue a combination of two routes, which was the case for Manitoba Moose players Peter Stoykewych and Francis Beauvillier.
Stoykewych, a Winnipeg product skating in his third season with the Moose, played Junior-A with the Winnipeg Blues before moving on to attend Colorado College and play for the Tigers. Beauvillier played five seasons of Major Junior in the QMJHL prior to attending the University of New Brunswick and suiting up for the Varsity Reds. While both had the goal of reaching the professional ranks, they gained valuable experience and education through their time in collegiate programs.
A third overall draft pick of the Lewiston MAINEiacs and later, a sixth round selection of the Florida Panthers, Beauvillier didn’t initially have university in mind until the later stages of his time in junior.
“When I was getting older, and older, 19 or 20, and saw that maybe my pro career wouldn’t be as fast as I thought it was going to be, my parents always taught me to go to school, it’s important,” Beauvillier recalled. “Hockey can end at any moment, and I just decided to go to university right after my junior career.”
Meanwhile, Stoykewych’s plans came together early on in deciding to pursue the NCAA route through Colorado College. He had to make the decision between playing in Major Junior or Junior-A to maintain his NCAA eligibility.
“It was always something I really wanted to do. My parents always encouraged education. It was something my brothers did as well so I kind of wanted to follow them. It’s always something I enjoyed doing and it kind of takes my mind away from hockey, which is nice sometimes when you’re away from the rink.”
Being a student-athlete requires learning time management skills, discipline and the ability to shift focus from studies to hockey on a daily basis. The collegiate schedule consists of a full slate of classes during the week, with practice each day as well. When the weekend rolls around, it’s game time. There isn’t much in the way of downtime.
“Maturity, determination and just being on time. Doing your stuff when it’s time to do it,” Beauvillier explained when asked what his experience taught him. “It’s the same with hockey. You have to come to the rink and get prepared in pro hockey and do your stuff before going on the ice. It’s the same in school. You had to be prepared because you knew you were going on a road trip. So you had to do your assignments before and speak with your teachers.”
After winning a second straight U Sports National Championship with the Varsity Reds, Beauvillier’s life as a student-athlete changed again when he signed an amateur tryout agreement with the Moose in the late stages of the 2016-17 season. It was a golden opportunity for the forward to show he could play professionally, but he still needed to attend to his responsibilities at UNB.
“It was hard. I had to do some assignments when I was (with Manitoba). To try and get a contract, to try and prove myself here with the Moose last year and at the same time finish my degree and finish the semester I was in, it was hard. After I needed a vacation, so after the semester I was happy with being able to do school and…make it known in this league (that) I could play at this level.”
The hard worked paid off for Beauvillier as he earned an AHL contract with the Moose over the off-season and is just a few courses away from earning his business degree. The Sorel-Tracy, Que. native hopes to start in on those remaining courses in the upcoming semester, which will require some looking ahead to manage with his schedule.
“It’s just going to be some planning I’m going to have to do…I’m still talking to UNB and the woman in the program and she’s going to help me through the process. I’m sure I’m going to get used to it. I did it last year and I’m pretty sure I’ll do well after Christmas.”
Stoykewych obtained his undergrad degree in economics from Colorado College and is currently taking his education a step further. While playing for the Moose, Stoykewych is working on his Masters of Business Finance and Business Strategy from the University of Colorado. For the third-year pro, education provides an outlet and way to relax away from the grind of a 76-game schedule.
“I like to learn. I hate being in a room where people are talking about things and I don’t know what’s going on,” said Stoykewych. “There’s a quote I like- ‘If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.’ So that’s something I try to be aware of and try to be around people I can learn from, whether it be out of a book school-wise, or at the rink where there are a ton of people around that I don’t know as much as.”
For Stoykewych, finishing degrees isn’t the driving force behind spending downtime writing papers and reading textbooks. It’s simply the enjoyment he gains from the process. However, it does provide him options for the day when it is time to move on from hockey. The work he puts in now will pay dividends.
“I have no idea what I want to do when hockey is done, but it is a game where one injury could end your career. It’s just a reality, I guess. The fact that I know I’m going to have to work and want to work when I’m done playing hockey is something I know is going to happen in the future and something I want to be prepared for when I do enter that part of my life.”
In total, 12 players who skated with the Moose in the early stages of the season made collegiate sports a part of their path to professional hockey. Still more have courses under their belt from their time in junior hockey or taking courses throughout the season. Some, like Stoykewych, are currently enrolled, while others intend to begin taking courses again as the season and their careers progress. For these players, education is an important part of their development off the ice while they put in the work at the rink to take their game on the ice to the next level.