BONNYVILLE — At 17-years-old and born and raised in Bonnyville, Emmett Croteau has taken huge leaps in pursuing his passion as a top tier junior hockey player.
Recently, the Bonnyville youth’s future path to a continued hockey career has been made slightly clearer after he accepted a four-year scholarship to Clarkson University and the opportunity to play for the New York school’s Golden Knights hockey team in the fall of 2023.
Until then, Croteau will continue working toward his high school diploma and refining his skills on the ice.
Like most students last year, Croteau was taking classes online throughout the pandemic, but unlike his fellow classmates attending Lakeland Catholic Online Learning program, he was studying from more than 2,000 km away in Iowa while playing and training as goaltender for the Waterloo Black Hawks.
Heading back to Iowa after spending the summer break with his mom, dad and younger brother and sister, he will return to the Black Hawks junior hockey program, a Tier 1 hockey program for the top college-bound players, while continuing his Alberta curriculum studies.
The Waterloo hockey program he attends offers the broadest on-ice, academic and social support while allowing youth to maintain NCAA eligibility, according to the Black Hawk organization’s website.
Throughout the week, Croteau balances a full schedule of daily meetings, practices on the ice, workouts and post practice recovery exercises. All the while finding time to complete schoolwork before and after workouts and at home in the evening after a long day.
“It does become a lot and sometimes when I finish for the day, I would much rather take a nap when I get home,” he says. “But it's got to get done and (schoolwork) is just another check box you have to do in order to continue playing. So, you get it done.”
Attending online studies with Lakeland classmates, some of which Croteau went to elementary school with, he is not sure how full his virtual classes will be compared to last year with ongoing uncertainties around the pandemic, but he is ready to start his last year of high school courses.
Croteau decided to continue the Alberta education stream to simplify credit transfers when enrolling in university, after losing nearly a semester’s worth of courses while he was attending classes and a hockey program in California in 2019.
At just 15-years-old, Croteau completed his first stint away from home to attend the Ontario Junior Reign program in California before he moved on to accept a spot with the Black Hawks, where he will don his jersey for two more seasons.
Knowing that he will have a golden opportunity to continue playing after his time with the Black Hawks wraps up, the scholarship comes both with relief and excitement. “I can really use this time to focus on my skill development and school without having to worry about too much else,” he told Lakeland This Week.
By January, Croteau will have completed all his high school classes and will have a gap year filled with hockey before making the journey to New York. “It will be nice when I finish up school and have more free time. I’ll have more time to just hang out with the other guys, maybe join in on their poker games,” he laughs, adding that he is looking forward to a slightly quieter routine.
Long time coming
Over the last three years, Croteau admits there have been difficult times living so far from his family home at such a young age, but it has also helped him grow to become independent and self-sufficient, he says. It is his determination and love of the game that keeps him focused on classes and his sports development.
He explains that filling all the boxes and challenging himself to be the best player and teammate is the goal, but with his continued success it has meant more time away from home and his family.
Although it’s been hard for Croteau's parents to send off their oldest child off to pursue his dreams, they have supported their young goalie's successes and desires to continue playing — even if it means attending training programs south of the border.
Croteau’s father visits and travels with him regularly and as a family they have learned to adapt to the distance and stay connected. “In some ways it feels like we are closer. When we are together that time is also more meaningful. We really appreciate the time when we are together,” he says.
Feeling lucky to have such a large support system behind him, Croteau credits his parents, coaches and close friends who have been there through the many wins and losses of his journey so far.
Over the years Croteau has played for the Bonnyville Minor Hockey League, Lakeland Panthers, the Lloydminster Bobcats and the California team, Ontario Reign.