Bay Roberts teen plying hockey trade in Ontario
© Photo by Nicholas Mercer/The Compass
Bay Roberts native Riley Akerman has spent the last four months with the Ontario Hockey Academy in Cornwall, Ontario.
Editor's note: The following article was first published in the Jan. 8, 2013 print edition of The Compass.
Moving away from home is a daunting undertaking at any age, let alone at the age of 15.
One has to deal with getting used to a new environment, life away from loved ones and trying to integrate into a new situation.
Plus, at 15, there are the challenges of becoming part of a new school community, getting used to living with other people, as well as all of the other growing pains that come with being a teenager.
If you are moving away to pursue an athletic goal, there is even more pressure. Now, on top of performing academically, one must perform on the ice as well.
For Bay Roberts native Riley Akerman, that has been the past four months of his life.
"It's a bit of a shock at first," he told The Compass before hitting the ice at the Bay Arena in Bay Roberts during the Christmas break. "Especially when you realize you don't have anyone there to support you except for a phone call."
In September, Riley packed up his goaltender pads and headed for Cornwall, Ontario and the prestigious Ontario Hockey Academy, a private high school that has teams in what is widely regarded as one of the top midget leagues in the country, the Ontario East Minor Hockey AAA League.
Riley said staying on top of things both off and on the ice is important.
"The hardest part is making sure you keep everything together," he said.
That means keeping academics and hockey in check.
"Once you let one thing slip, everything starts to fall a part," said Riley. "You have to be on the ball and on top of your game."
At the Christmas break, Riley has a grade point average of 3.88, or 88 per cent.
Not only is the transition hard for the teenager moving away, it is also a difficult move for the family.
Scott Akerman is Riley's father.
He said the transition has not been easy.
"When you sit down to the table in the evening, you're used to having him there for 14 years and all of a sudden he's not there, but you try to adjust," said Scott.
The phone calls and talking as much as they can has helped make the transition a little bit easier. Scott has also managed to make a couple of trips to see Riley play.
What makes it different for Scott is the fact that all up through minor hockey, he has been Riley's coach.
Now, that has changed a little bit.
"The main thing I tell him is to not forget where he came from, set realistic goals, keep in touch and remember where it all happened for him and what helped him get there," said Scott.
Riley came to the OHA Mavericks program after a two-year courtship that began at the Atlantic Showcase on Prince Edward Island in 2010 and culminated in his acceptance to the program this past summer.
"I went to Quebec with the spring team, they saw me play and decided that they wanted me," he said.
Since starting in September, Riley has seen a steady improvement in his game.
"The coaches, they've been pushing down on my technical game," he said. "You don't get to these places unless you can stop the puck, they just want to you stop it better now."
As a member of the under-15 minor midget squad at the school, Riley is on the ice four days out of seven.
"It's a very well-developed hockey program and the schooling is adequate as well," he said. "They really try to progress your hockey skills.
"You're devoted to getting better, it's all very serious and there are no easy days. I've developed both physically and mentally."
Before his first start, nerves were a bit of a factor for Riley. His OHA squad met the Ottawa Senators minor midget team.
"It was a televised game and I got the start. Our team wasn't ready to compete with the Sens yet and so they were all over us. They recorded the shots at 58 to 10 and we lost 5-1. After the game I was told I'd received player of the game and they wanted an interview. I was told more than once that the score could of easily been 10-1 if I hadn't been in net. This really stood out to me and proved I was ready to play at that level," he said.
While Riley is alone in Cornwall, he does have family in Ottawa, an hour-and-a-half drive from where he is staying.
He used his time over Christmas break to reunite with both friends and family.
"It's like I never left," he said.
One aspect that has helped Riley adjust to living in a different province has been his teammates.
"They've really become like family," he said.