Growing up in Hazenmore, Sask., an hour southeast of Swift Current, Ryley Gross developed his goalie skills with the help of his dad.
Since joining the Prairie Hockey Academy (PHA) three years ago, Gross has volunteered as a goalie coach at PHA spring camps with five teams.
“I want to try and give back to those younger than me to keep it going because I love playing the game of hockey,” says Gross, who is seeing a decline in players from where he grew up and communities joining forces to create teams.
Among the drills that Gross, 17, has goalies do is body movement. He is passing on the knowledge given to him for them to succeed.
“It’s honestly one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever experienced,” says Gross of watching goalies grow and improve.
Volunteering as a coach has impacted him and improved his play. Coaching has taken Gross back to the basics and remembering why certain movements are used. Having played the position for 10 years, Gross says bad habits can be developed. The work he has done with spring hockey teams hasn’t gone unnoticed. PHA president and general manager Justin Simpkins passed on a text message to him from a parent explaining how grateful they were to see Gross out there helping.
He doesn’t just give back on the ice, Gross does it at school, too. Last year he was a mentor at an elementary school and did what the student was interested in. The student Gross was paired with enjoyed playing Legos. It’s something Gross loved doing growing up and they had a great time building things.
“The idea behind it was to be there and be a big brother to these kids,” Gross explains. “When Erik Robitaille (PHA director of business operations) asked me to do it, in a heartbeat I was a yes because growing up I was a kid who got bullied a lot. When other kids get bullied it hurts me because I don’t like seeing that.”
Gross is also key in connecting PHA student athletes with Briercrest Christian Academy, where the they study. Gross has been on the student leadership team for three years. His role recently changed to help players be less distant in Briercrest Christian Academy compared to the past. He has been influential in making the student-athletes part of the academy culture. He assists with planning and advising on how the hockey players can be incorporated into more events. It’s a role that helps him personally.
“It’s helped me a lot with organizational skills,” says Gross, who is also an honour roll student averaging 83 per cent.
Along with playing hockey, Gross has played AA baseball, volleyball and is a provincial discus finalist. Playing discus was a great experience as over the years he went from competing for the experience to winning a medal.