By Michel Bélanger
Exhilarating, inspiring, stimulating are words that are often used to describe life on a university campus. For first-year student-athletes, however, challenging is more often than not added to that list as they learn to cope with the demands of high-level competition and academic excellence.
That reality was never lost on Kelly Nobes, a former McGill hockey player now in his eighth season as Redmen head coach. Three years ago, the physical education (1997) and exercise physiology (M.A. 2001) graduate came up with an innovative idea to help ease the transition and integration of his recruits.
“Kelly noticed that we had a lot of first-year players from diverse backgrounds who needed assistance getting acclimatized to the university setting, so he started a mentorship program,” explains assistant coach David Urquhart, a former all-Canadian defenceman who earned a commerce degree from McGill in 2008. “Many of our players start studying at McGill around age 21 after they have completed their junior hockey career. While they have proven themselves to be great student-athletes before attending McGill, these players still require some assistance adjusting to the full-time course load and rigorous scheduling demands at the university level.”
Realizing that the best advisors are those who have recently been through a similar experience, Nobes calls upon his team leaders to help out.
“Each year, we select a veteran player as a mentor for each incoming athlete to help them with non-sport related matters such as choosing classes, where to live, buying books, preparing for classes and exams, tutoring, managing a schedule, etc.,” said Urquhart.
Rearguard Redgie Bois was part of the first wave of beneficiaries of the mentorship program when he joined the Redmen in the fall of 2015 after a four-year QMJHL career with his hometown Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. The industrial relations major is now giving back as a mentor for the second straight year.
“It’s really a great program for both the incoming student-athlete and the mentor,” says the first-year alternate captain. “The world-class reputation of our school and the rich tradition of the hockey program make it even more special. You feel as a mentor that you contribute in a small way to the success of your younger teammate and that you help him become a McGill graduate and, eventually, start his working life.”
Bois couldn’t say enough about the impact the program had on and off the ice during his first year at McGill.
“I actually had two mentors, first Pietro Antonelli and then Vincent Barnard, both unreal individuals,” said Bois. “They became role models for me and I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to meet them. I now try to recreate that environment for the teammates I mentor as I want the new generation of Redmen to feel appreciated within the team and to enjoy their time at McGill as much as possible.”