The Delta School District’s flagship academy has quietly gone into private hands.
Originally based out of South Delta Secondary, the hockey academy was sold to the GSL Group founded by Graham Lee, whose holdings include the Planet Ice arena in North Delta where the program is now based.
Delta school board spokesperson Jen Hill said the program became so successful that it grew beyond the facilities the district could provide.
“The team there was taking such great care and had such an emotional investment in it, we came to an agreement that they would take over the management of it. We want all our academies to grow and it’s not that we want all of them to become independent of the school district. When you have something like hockey that’s so dependent on a facility, we weren’t going to be able to help steward that through the long-term goals of the academy team, so they wanted to take that on themselves,” Hill explained.
The school district got just $1 for the program, but the district is still involved with the educational aspect as many of the students attend classes in Delta schools or are taught in classrooms at Planet Ice.
Ian Gallagher, the former Vancouver Giants strength and conditioning coach who was an integral part of the SDSS program, still runs the academy, which has produced such National Hockey League players as Gallagher’s son Brendan and Vancouver Canucks defenceman Troy Stecher.
A major selling point when it started was its connection to the Western Hockey League team, but now the program, called the Delta Wild Hockey Group, isn’t affiliated with the Giants.
Former school trustee Dale Saip, an official with the Giants, spearheaded the board introducing Delta’s first academy back in 2004/05 as a way to not only retain students but also attract others from out of \ district.
He said in the early years students would attend the academy and take classes at SDSS, but also play for their own club teams. As the program grew, and more students attended, the program had to form its own teams.
The success of the program, as well as competition from new academies, meant it grew to a point where the school board faced having to put in some major capital dollars, a route the board wasn’t ready to go down.
“It became a bigger and bigger deal and we didn’t have our own facility, an arena with weight rooms and all that, so we had to be very careful on what we did and how we did it, and we didn’t want to step into that realm because it can be a pretty slippery slope,” said Saip.
Noting the school district’s goal of retaining and attracting new students is still being realized, Saip added, “The only reason we started with hockey is because I knew how to do it, and that was one way we could keep kids here. That’s what we’ve been able to do and it’s been very successful, but it didn’t make sense making major investments and building our own rink.”
Having real estate, entertainment and other holdings, including the Victoria Royals hockey team of the WHL, the GSL Group is headquartered in Vancouver.
“Our program works in harmony with existing school district goals to provide our students with a positive learning environment from which to develop their academic and athletic potential,” the company says.