The ultimate springboard for elite young players on their hockey career paths, the QMJHL also plays an important role in their players’ pursuits both academically and professionally for all of its student-athletes.
At the heart of this mission are a group of dedicated academic advisors who help pave the way for classroom success for each player across the League’s 18 teams.
Anyone with the misconception that schooling is not taken seriously in an elite league like the QMJHL does not understand what really goes on with these clubs.
“Our academic advisors work as a team with our head coaches and general managers to assure the necessary support the players need in the classroom,” explains Natacha Llorens, QMJHL Director of Educational Programs, Anti-doping and Player support.
The preparation period now underway league-wide is as busy as ever for academic advisors from Val-d’Or to Halifax and Baie-Comeau to Sherbrooke.
“This time of the year we welcome 24 players at our rookie camp and that number will rise to 35-40 for our regular training camp. We speak daily with our advisor at this point of the season to inform them about all personnel movement,” says Marc-Andre Dumont, general manager of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
“We make sure to let him know about each transaction and each assignment to the midget ranks right up until we reach our final group. At that point he will study the profiles of the 9-12 new players who will be starting the season with us while also doing his follow-ups with our returning veterans.”
Once the training camp process is over, teams will have roughly 20 players to place in local schools which makes for an interesting logistical puzzle to solve given these young peoples’ varying profiles. There are Anglophones in Francophone cities and vice-versa, students from outside of Quebec playing in Quebec and the opposite is also true while the same goes for Quebecers in the Maritimes not to mention high school students and Europeans.
There is notably the case of Maximilien Glassl who is a German defenceman who finished last season in Baie-Comeau after starting the season in Moncton. James Laviolette, his academic advisor with the Drakkar had to contact the German Embassy in Ottawa to ensure he would be able to continue his education remotely at his school in Berlin.
“This really demands some gymnastics of sorts for our advisors and it demands a lot of flexibility,” adds Dumont. “We must ensure that all our student-athletes have a path that fits with their profile.”
Clearly this line of work requires special and dedicated individuals.
“It takes people with knowledge of the school system with all of its intricacies, people with initiative, who can gets things done while having an open mind and an ease in adapting in order to operate in the context of our league,” says Llorens.
From high school and CEGEP teachers to retired former principals and orientation consultants, QMJHL academic advisors all do have one thing in common, however.
“They are so passionate given how they are available all year long while working in the shadows to help our student-athletes succeed in school,” continued Llorens.
Laviolette meanwhile is now in his fifth season as an academic consultant in Baie-Comeau. Originally from Sillery, QC he counts an impressive 30 years of experience as a teacher.
“There are two categories of people in our league. There are students who play hockey and players who go to school. My objective has always been to take the player from where he is at and then help him as a student. I always tell parents that what matters to me is the education of their child. In my eyes they are my boys and I work for their betterment,” explains Laviolette who is both a father and grandfather.
The Drakkar innovated three years ago by becoming the first QMJHL team to offer the option of trade school diplomas to their players.
“Going on to university isn’t for everyone,” says Laviolette. “Two of our players did their auto mechanic courses in the first year we offered this program and they enjoyed it and took great pride in it. He even did oil changes and tire changes for the guys on the team!”
One of these players was Alexandre Ranger who spent part of last season with the St. John’s Ice Caps, the Montreal Canadiens’ AHL farm team.
While in Ottawa last winter, Laviolette took in a University game between the McGill Redmen and Carleton Ravens.
“I took a lot of pride in seeing five of my former players on the ice that night. I met up with them after the game and it was great to see them again,” said Laviolette. “For me success is also defined by working with a kid who wanted nothing to do with school who then manages to graduate.”
Llorens shares in Laviolette’s pride.
“The majority of our players graduate and go on to university or pursue a professional trade. We have also gotten many of our youngsters to stay in school when they likely wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Academic advisors may not show up on team depth charts, but that doesn’t make them any less important ingredients for QMJHL clubs.
“In the end, our academic advisor are more than a resource, he is an integral part of our organization who plays a big part of our success,” concludes Screaming Eagles GM Marc-Andre Dumont.
Image: Natacha Llorens, James Laviolette, Jérémy Grégoire, Gilles Courteau