The Walpole Express is ready to revolutionize the high school experience for college hockey prospects.
Not only is the hockey program based out of Walpole, Mass., a hotbed for college hockey prospects, but also the Express staff is working hard to make sure players are ready for the other side of college — academics.
New this school year, the Express opened the Walpole Express Academy, an individualized academic program that offers plenty of support.
“It’s just like a high school. You have to choose your courses,” program director Rob Barletta said. “Every one of them has an academic advisor who tells them they need these credits to get into this school. They’ll help you pick classes. You’re never alone any step of the way. You’re not coming here to be a hockey player, you’re coming here to be a student-athlete.”
The Express uses the online University of Nebraska High School — which is accredited by the NCAA — for course work. This is the same academic program used by the U.S. National Development Team Program, an indication that it is a quality system of education.
The days at the academy are structured to make sure students are productive. On a typical day, student-athletes arrive for class at 8 a.m. and have two hours of classroom time. After that, they skate for an hour and then have an hourlong workout session.
Lunch is held from noon to 12:30 p.m., and after that, students return to the classroom until at least 3 p.m. However, the students are allowed to stay until as late as 8 p.m. if they need help with their homework or learning experience, because there are several educators on-site.
“They have a curriculum that’s set up and we’re here to help them commit to that curriculum,” Barletta said.
The Walpole Express has made some recent additions to its staff who help out in the academics department. This includes director of hockey operations Todd Sterling, director of player development Tom Murphy and director of girls hockey/women’s juniors coach Danielle Doherty, a Boston College hockey alum. The three of them have master’s degrees, as does Jon Lounsbury, who is the junior/Midgets general manager and head coach of EHL Premier team. Boston College alum and current Boston Pride forward Dana Trivigno also helps three to four times per week with math-related work.
“It’s basically like a hybrid because there’s a teacher who taught at an elementary school, but we have people in there who help the students,” Barletta said. “We’re really working hard to give them the individual attention that they need.”
The on-site academic advisors help students in the same way a teacher or tutor would and help students pick their academic schedules so they have the credits they need to apply to the college of their choice.
The program has proven itself effective in helping its students prepare for college, as all of the 12 kids currently enrolled have a 3.5 GPA or better this school year. The program is also open to both genders; this school year, there are six girls and six boys enrolled. The Express is looking to expand those numbers on both sides.
“The academy is awesome,” Barletta said. “It’s our largest-growing area here, and that’s exactly what we want right now.”
Because the academy is in its first year, it is currently focused on high schoolers. However, Barletta said he sees it extending beyond high school into younger age groups.
The Express has improved its strength and conditioning program as well, investing $100,000 for a new gym facility to help players improve.
Barletta also noted that there is a convenience factor to the setup. Once the kids are done with their school work, they are done for the day, because they already did their hockey training midday. They do not have to go to practice after school, making their time management easier — their scheduled are more similar to the schedule of a college athlete rather than a high schooler.
The Walpole Express has seen many of its alum thrive at the next level, both on the ice and in the classroom. That legacy is set to continue in the near future as the program has had commitments to Babson, Sacred Heart, Holy Cross, UMass Boston, Johnson & Wales, Suffolk and Potsdam during this hockey season.
Barletta also is the owner of RB Hockey Camps in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Active NHL alumni who attended those camps growing up include Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Noah Hanifin (Norwood, Mass.), Florida Panthers center Connor Brickley (Everett, Mass.), Colorado Avalanche defenseman David Warsofsky (Marshfield, Mass.), New York Rangers center Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.) and New Jersey Devils right winger Jimmy Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.).