In combining two of his biggest passions, Liam Heelis is living a dream.
A hockey fan first, Heelis’ story starts in the Ontario Hockey League where from 2006-11 he suited up in 232 contests with the Peterborough Petes and Owen Sound Attack, registering 51 goals and 57 assists over a four-year career that culminated with a J. Ross Robertson championship with the Attack in his final season.
“(Winning the championship) is a very fond memory of mine and one that I cherish. I was lucky enough to share it with very special people in winning that championship (on the road) in Mississauga and being that close to home and having friends and family there,” the Georgetown, Ont., native told Junior Hockey Magazine as part of its CHL Leaders segment.
While winning it all was no doubt the biggest highlight of Heelis’ career, the former forward also points to the many life lessons he learned over his junior days and how those important moments later shaped him as a student as well as who he is today as a person.
“The OHL really taught me a lot, and a lot of that is the people within the organizations,” Heelis recalled. “The people who are in the major junior hockey organizations in Ontario and across Canada are very special, intelligent minds, and certainly a foundation for me to learn, from getting strong grades to competing in practice. I was able to apply what I learned every day at the major junior level into other facets of my life.”
Pursuing an undergraduate degree in psychology at Acadia University – where he also suited up for another four seasons with the varsity Axemen, a stretch that saw him claim U SPORTS Player of the Year recognition during the 2013-14 campaign – Heelis then continued to pursue his higher education in attending McGill University, earning his master’s degree in sports psychology.
It’s an invaluable background that Heelis puts to use today in some very familiar surroundings in serving as head coach of the men’s hockey team at McGill.
“I think I knew pretty early that professional hockey wasn’t going to be a feasible option for me at the highest level, so when I came to that realization I knew that I had another path that I was certainly passionate about that combined my passion and love for hockey, and for me that was coaching,” Heelis detailed. “It is something that has always fascinated me. It was great going to the rink in junior and getting to learn from such great coaches and leaders.
“I wanted to better understand group dynamics, the behavioural aspects of working in a group, and the social aspects of coaching in a team sport setting, and that’s what laid my foundation and fascination in studying psychology.”
In all, it’s an opportunity that became possible beginning with Heelis’ time in the junior circuit that granted him access to the CHL scholarship program.
“The scholarship package really laid a foundation for me to get into a master’s program and excel at it,” Heelis concluded. “I then applied what I had learned during my OHL time and through my master’s in congruence in doing a great job as a volunteer assistant coach into a full-time assistant coach and ultimately to where now I am here as a head coach. I always look back on my experience and my time, and it is something that is very valuable to me.”