Now in a third school year, the Total Package Hockey Center of Excellence is thriving in Metro Detroit.
The new-age blend of hockey and academics – the student-athletes have customized training and online classes to help them juggle the demands of AAA hockey – is now offered in multiple locations, as Canton’s Center of Excellence has been joined by another location in Hazel Park.
TPH Detroit director Brandon Naurato is certainly proud of the success the Center of Excellence has found in its first few years of operation.
“It’s probably the most rewarding feeling in the world,” Naurato said. “We’ve got 63 kids in the school now, so obviously every day is a roller coaster. Thirty kids are having a ton of success, 30 kids are going through adversity during the course of each week. We’re patting the kids on the back that are doing well and keeping them grounded, and the kids that are struggling, trying to help them through every day. All we want these guys to do is have success in the classroom and on the ice. When they earn their scholarships or make a junior roster, there’s no better feeling for us.”
The TPH staff has had plenty of those ‘no better feeling’ moments. Players who have previously or are currently attending the Center of Excellence have had many successes, including:
- 11 college commitments
- 12 OHL Draft selections
- One OHL-rostered player in 2016-2017
- Four Junior Olympic Gold Medalists
- Three Five Nations Gold Medalists
- Three NTDP-rostered players in 2016-2017
- 15 USHL Draft selections
- One USHL tender
- Seven USHL rostered players in 2016-2017
The TPH staff’s goal centers around much more than just on-ice success.
“It’s about being a true student-athlete,” Naurato said. “The last thing that we want is to be labeled just as a hockey school. If the students in our school don’t have above an 80 percent, they don’t go on the ice. If the students in our school are ten lessons behind, which would be the equivalent of missing two days of school, they don’t go on the ice. We put on academic spurs, we hold them accountable on their academics. Whether they play NCAA or major junior, their schooling is important because at the end of their hockey career, they’re going to need a fallback on something, so we just want them to create the right habits every day in the classroom and on the ice and everything kind of falls in line together.”
And they are well-versed in knowing how to help players reach the next level.
“One thing is just the quality of our staff,” Naurato said. “I think every single one of our staff members has played pro hockey or college hockey, we have staff members – Scott Hillman has coached nine years of pro hockey in the East Coast Hockey League, Jimmy McGroarty has coached 13 years in the USHL, multiple guys in our staff scout in the OHL and the USHL, but just because these guys have played at a high level or coached at a high level doesn’t mean they can do what we’re doing over here. I think every single guy on our staff is passionate about the game, but more importantly, passionate about mentoring young kids to create the right habits and make the right choices off the ice. So our model for this year is, ‘Choices. Character. Culture.’ So everything we do, we try to bring it back to that.”
Naurato said that providing a flexible schedule for his student-athletes is something crucial for the developing youngsters.
“In a number of ways, it gives them the flexibility that if they need to sleep in until 8 or 8:30 because they got home from practice at 11 at night – there have been a number of studies that have been done that getting the proper rest changes mood, behavior, cognitive thinking, so we want these guys to do the best possible job and getting the proper rest is part of that. Managing their time is part of that. Instead of them playing catch-up because they missed Thursday, Friday of school before they go to a big tournament, we have our kid working ahead so when they go to those tournaments, they can concentrate on hockey and know their academics are already taken care of.
“It caters to these kids’ needs and gives them the flexibility and the opportunity to manage their time so they can concentrate on fulfilling their dreams of playing college hockey, pro hockey or major junior.”