Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
Not to say that Brock Nixon’s class is small. After all, he has enough students to make a hockey team.
Just so long as he never has to change lines.
“A lot of teachers I know are pretty jealous at how quickly it is for me to mark things when there’s only six of them compared to 25,” laughed the University of Calgary alumnus.
After retiring from pro hockey last spring, Nixon has started his teaching career in Inglis, Man., a speck on the map located just a few minutes from his hometown of Russell.
Total enrollment in the Kindergarten-Grade 8 school is 45, and Nixon has exactly half a dozen pupils in his Grade 7/8 class.
“There are some really great positives about teaching a smaller class,” he said. “I can spend as much individual time with them as they need. The classroom management for six is obviously a lot different than 25-30, so that’s really good. Some days the kids are a little tired, there’s not much energy. You’ve got to build it up because it can get pretty dull with only six kids in a big classroom, so I’ve found some days challenging, but it’s been great.”
For Nixon, it’s quite the change of pace to be working a regular job in this prairie community so small it doesn’t even have an individual listing in the Canadian census. Since graduating from the University of Calgary with an education degree in 2013, the former member of the Dinos men’s hockey team has played around the world.
“Getting used to an 8:30 to 4:00 p.m. job and having (teaching) responsibilities is a lot different than waking up, going to practice and working out, going for lunch and hanging out with the guys,” Nixon, 32, said. “You jump right into adult life, but I’ve really enjoyed it.”
It was just as much an adjustment when a 16-year-old Nixon moved from the only home he’d known to Kamloops where he joined the Blazers of the Western Hockey League, in 2003.
“Russell’s about 1,600 people, so going to Kamloops, which at that time was around 85,000, was certainly a change,” Nixon said. “When you’re 16 and 17-years-old in high school and playing hockey, there’s so much on your plate and you’re so busy with everything that it goes by quick.”
A left-shot forward, Nixon spent five years in the WHL, totaling 213 points (98G-115A) in 314 games between the Blazers and the Calgary Hitmen. Midway through his 20-year-old season, Nixon was dealt to Calgary where he put the cap on his junior career by scoring 18 points (8G-8A) in 16 playoff games, helping the Hitmen reach the 2008 Eastern Conference final.
Through the WHL scholarship program, for every season played in the WHL a player is entitled to a minimum of tuition, books and compulsory fees at any post-secondary institution. For Nixon, that made going to university “a no-brainer.”
“With the five-year-year scholarship, I was excited to go,” he said.
Attending Calgary was also an easy decision for Nixon, who had enjoyed the city during his stint with the Hitmen and heard great things about the Dinos hockey program.
Nixon studied five years at the university, and never missed a game for the Dinos, suiting up in 28 contests each season from 2008-09 to 2012-13. The 5-foot-11 forward was part of Calgary advancing to the CIS National Championship in 2011 and the 2012 Canada West championship series.
“The last few years at U of C we had a really good club and played with a lot of good players … and as the U of C program continued to evolve, it allowed players to have success and we had some team success to go along with that as well,” said Nixon, one of a dozen players in team history to total at least 50 goals and 60 assists.
Having completed university, Nixon embarked on a professional hockey journey that included parts of three seasons in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) with the Colorado Eagles, followed by two years in the Danish premier league and one more in Austria’s top tier of hockey.
His greatest time was with the Esbjerg Energy in Denmark, where he was captain and helped the team win consecutive championships in 2016 and 2017.
“It was an unbelievable experience – the playoff runs, the crowds, the fan support,” said Nixon, who had back-to-back 20-goal campaigns in Esbjerg. “In those two years we won three playoff series each year, and four of the six were won in overtime. There were just some unbelievable moments, and the parties and the parades and the celebrations after – we were absolute celebrities there after winning those two championships.”
Throughout his pro hockey days, the education grad remained involved with youth, from coaching baseball back home in the summers to working as a substitute teacher at an international school in Denmark. After spending 2017-18 with the Graz 99ers in the Austrian Hockey League, he heard the call of teaching.
“I knew it was time to move on,” he said. “I didn’t always (want to be) strictly playing hockey and doing one thing, I always was pushing to do more and I knew it was time to get on with the next step in life.”
Having enjoyed a rewarding hockey career that took him to places far and wide, Nixon brought it full circle, coming back home to start something new. Tracing his path reveals the dual opportunity that exists for Canada West student-athletes, of success and fulfillment on and off the ice.
“I think now there is more knowledge and awareness of how good Canada West hockey is, that you can do both (go to university and play pro),” he said. “There’s a ton of examples of guys like me … who have got to do great things, whether in the ECHL, or the American Hockey League or overseas in Europe.”
“The quality of recruits Canada West is getting every year out of the WHL is showing that guys are going (to Canada West) not to shut down their hockey careers and go to school, but that it’s a step in getting (to pro hockey) and you have that degree to fall back on when it’s all over.”
The #CanadaWestCreated series features stories of former Canada West student-athletes who have moved on to excel in their careers and communities. The individuals profiled in the #CanadaWestCreated series exemplify how student-athletes build the skills and connections needed to succeed following the completion of their time in university.