When the Plymouth Whalers open training camp next week to start the 2012-13 season, the team’s Most Valuable Person may not be a player, a coach or trainer.
Although players like Tom Wilson and Alex Aleardi, coaches Mike Vellucci and Joe Stefan, and Athletic Trainer Dennis MacDonald will play their part towards Plymouth’s success this season, perhaps the Most Valuable Person around the Whalers next week will be John Seidleman.
Seidleman doesn’t diagram a power play, score goals or hand out sticks. Seidleman is the Whalers’ Educational Consultant.
Seidleman – a retired Plymouth education professional - will be instrumental next week in ensuring first-year players transition into the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park smoothly and with minimal hassle.
Seidelman is as passionate about his job as any coach or player. He keeps the Plymouth coaching staff, host families and parents up-to-speed about the players’ academic progress and works tirelessly as a liaison among all parties involved.
“John does a great job,” said Plymouth general manager and head coach Mike Vellucci. “We believe in supporting our players, on and off the ice. John is an integral part of our success with the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park.”
“In the seven or eight years I’ve been involved with the Whalers, the team has had as many as six to 10 or 11 high school aged kids during any one season,” Seidleman said. “The Whalers put a lot of emphasis on players finishing their high school education. We get kids coming in as early as 10th grade, but usually they are 11th or 12th graders. My job is to wean them into the high school program and make sure they are taking classes that are going to allow them to get a diploma at the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park.”
The Whalers take education seriously. A large part of Plymouth’s Rookie Orientation each May is spent on an Education Seminar, hosted by Vellucci with Seidleman speaking. Players and their parents are encouraged to go the PCEP and see the facility first hand.
In the seminar, Vellucci explains to parents that players have to maintain their grades or they won’t play. In past seasons, Plymouth alumni currently in the National Hockey League have been healthy scratches due to poor grades. It doesn’t happen often and usually happens to once. Players get the message and Seidleman is there to assist.
“One of the things that we’re real proud of, following the 2012 graduating class, is we’ve had a one-hundred percent graduation rate,” Seidleman said. “So many of these kids don’t know what the future is going to hold and they’ll never regret having worked hard to receive their high school diploma. We’re glad to work with them.”
Besides the potential shock of attending a campus of nearly 6,000 students, there’s not a lot of down-time for Whaler players going to high school.
“Kids coming from small schools in Ontario (and then) coming here can be a real culture shock,” Seidleman said. “Still, they’ve been very successful. I take my hat off to the students, because the school day starts as early at 7 in the morning and they’re in school until 1 in the afternoon. Then, they’re on the ice from 1:45-3:15 p.m. and off-ice after that for an hour. Their travel schedule is tremendous. Part of the discipline that they learn to be successful in the Ontario Hockey League gets transferred into the classroom. It’s tough, but the players do a good job”.
Now starting their second seasons, Danny Vanderwiel and Matt Mistele went through the PCEP experience for the first time last year.
“Plymouth is nice and I really enjoy playing here so far,” Mistele said last season. “My old school had 500 kids and this one has about 6,000, so it’s a little getting used to. But I think I’m handling it well – I’ve got Danny (Vanderwiel) in a few of my classes and that makes it a little easier.”
Vanderwiel comes from Island Lake, IL, north of Chicago and just south of the Wisconsin border.
“Island Lake is a lot smaller than Plymouth,” he said. “The school is outrageous here – there are so many kids here.”
Seidleman’s work has helped Whaler youngsters succeed in a potentially tough learning situation.
“The Plymouth-Canton Educational Park has done a great job welcoming the kids into the district,” Seidleman said. “They’re not treated any differently, but are integrated into the system and go to activities. Some players participate in social activities and they don’t miss that important part of being a high school kid and a growing adolescent.”
Besides being successful on the ice, current Whalers Tom Wilson and Matt Mahalak have enjoyed success in the classroom. Wilson – a first round pick of the Washington Capitals - has been named the OHL West Division Academic Player of the Month twice in his career and has shared the Whalers Academic Player of the Year with Mahalak. Earlier this year, Mahalak – a Carolina Hurricanes draft - made the Dean’s List at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and was Co-Academic Player of the Year in the USHL in 2010.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Tom as a 10th grader,” Seidleman said. He was just a young kid, but he immediately made the transition academically. He brought great grades with him (from Canada), but he continued to excel. One of the things that we notice is the discipline that we see in the classroom transfers to the ice, and vice-versa. If kids aren’t real disciplined and don’t take academics seriously, it’s reflected on the ice. Tom is an example of discipline in the classroom.”
So while the Whalers succeed on the ice on many levels, they do the same in the classroom as well.
TRAINING CAMP NOTES: Plymouth players will report to on Wed. Aug. 29 for off-ice testing. The team is scheduled to scrimmage on Thurs. Aug. 30 and Fri. Aug. 31 from 9-11 am and from 2-4 pm. The scrimmages are free and open to the public. Rosters will be provided the day of the scrimmages.
Plymouth opens the preseason on Sat. Sept. 1 at 7 pm at Wyandotte’s Yack Arena against Windsor.