Being a student-athlete, in Cody Van Lierop’s opinion, “is unbelievable.”
Van Lierop is a second-year defenceman on the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees men’s hockey team, who has had previous experience in the student-athlete life.
Growing up in in a small town of Ontario, Canada, Van Lierop originally didn’t like to skate at first, due to his brother “pushing me around in the snow and stuff,” but, after experiencing the thrill of a public skate with his friends, has never looked back since.
“I went out with my mom, with all of my friends, on a public skate, and I started to love it from there, and kept going from four years old,” Van Lierop said.
Prior to joining the Gee-Gees, Van Lierop saw playing time while a part of the South Central Coyotes Minor Midget AAA of the Eastern AAA Minor Midget Hockey League (ETAMMHL), the Lake Forest Academy of the Midwest Prep Hockey League (MPHL), and the Victoria Grizzlies of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL).
While a part of the South Central Coyotes, Van Lierop played in 27 games, recording one goal and six assists for seven points.
At the start of the 2012-13 season, at the age of 16, Van Lierop began playing for the Lake Forest Academy.
This is where he first got to experience the student-athlete lifestyle.
Lake Forest Academy is a co-ed boarding and day school, located in Lake Forest, Illinois, for students from grades 9-12.
While there, Van Lierop played in 31 games, while recording four goals and 15 assists for 19 points.
“It was awesome there. It was kind of a change of pace after playing minor midget in the Toronto area, to going to a prep school where you’re a student athlete just like at university. And the student part comes before the athletics, so, I was making sure I was getting all my assignments and everything done while playing hockey,” Van Lierop said.
“But hockey wise, it allowed me to really put on some muscle and gain a lot because of the access to the rink everyday and the weight room, and also just having a coach that was an ex-NHL guy, he helped me improve in areas that I didn’t really know I needed to improve in,” he added.
Following his time in the United States, Van Lierop made the trek back to Canada, where he began a three-year career with the Victoria Grizzlies.
While a part of the Grizzlies, Van Lierop played in 176 games, while recording 11 goals and 65 assists for 76 points.
“Out west was awesome. I’m so glad I went out there. Victoria, in general, was just an unbelievable area, and BC, overall. But on the actual team, it was one of the closer teams I’ve ever been on, and I lived with a guy on the team in an unbelievable billet house. They provided me with everything, and it was an awesome spot to live out there. But hockey wise, it was awesome. And then, it was all wrapped up with me wearing the C (captain) in the last year, and that really meant a lot to me,” Van Lierop said.
“Moments out there, of just being with the guys all the time, and then being able to do something new every day, like climb a mountain, go out into the ocean, and see the whole city, go whale watching, see the Navy Seals of Canada, they were based out there, that was cool,” he added.
Following the end of his time with the Grizzlies, Van Lierop came over to the U of O to study engineering, while also committing to the Gee-Gees men’s hockey team.
Due to his experience at Lake Forest, Van Lierop believes his time away at boarding school and experiencing a student-athlete life, fully prepared him for the student-athlete life at university.
“I think, for me, it helped a lot. It was a very prestigious academic school, and I was taking college courses in high school, so it allowed me to get that feel, and I had the same schedule as college, where you just have classes randomly throughout the day, so it really helped me that way. And it gave me the feel for being away from my parents and doing it on my own,” Van Lierop said.
Prior to coming to the Gee-Gees, Van Lierop said he tried not to set his expectations too high, knowing the program had only been re-established the previous year.
“It wasn’t too high, I was kind of hoping that I could battle into the line up, and I did, but it was kind of, like, I didn’t have any too high expectations. And schooling wise, I’m in the engineering program, and I knew it was a pretty hard program just overall, but putting hockey and engineering together was a big step for me,” Van Lierop said.
So far, while on the Gee-Gees, Van Lierop has played in 59 games, recording five goals and 13 assists for 18 points.
During his time as a Gee-Gee, Van Lierop has been able to experience the rivalry with cross-town rivals, the Carleton University Ravens, due to facing them in the annual Colonel By Classic game between the two schools, and facing the Ravens in the playoffs.
“I think its being with the guys. This is such a tight group. I’ve never been part of a tighter group. But one of the most memorable ones is definitely that win last year against Carleton in the first round, which was something unbelievable, and then this year, kind of the whole year, losing two regulation games throughout the whole year is something not a lot of teams have done. So, the whole season this year was memorable. I wish we would have gone further, but it was pretty fantastic,” Van Lierop said about his most memorable moment so far.
This year, the Gee-Gees finished the season with the best record in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) league, but then got eliminated in the second round of the OUA Queen’s Cup playoffs.
Despite being eliminated earlier than they thought they’d be, the Gee-Gees believe, due to their program being successful after re-establishment, the team has a bright future ahead of them.
“I think the potential is endless. Because with our coach, Pat (head coach Patrick Grandmaitre), he’s an unbelievable coach, and he knows what he’s doing and where he wants to take us,” Van Lierop said.
“And I think the players he brings in are character players, and are people that are willing to join him and our whole group on what our trajectory has to be. And he’s allowed us to grow together and given us an opportunity to become a team. And I think in the long run, this team will compete for nationals every year,” he added.
The Gee-Gees are also scouting out more, with more opportunities to help their players grow. One such opportunity, is how the team is heading to Europe to play in two exhibition games in the 2019-20 season.
“I think with the group of guys we have, just the whole experience is going to be unbelievable. I’m super excited for it, and I think everyone else is, and it will just be a cool exposure for all of us. And depending on if guys want to continue their hockey career, maybe get a shot to go over there,” Van Lierop said.
Van Lierop also believes, due to how close the team is with each other, they have grown ever closer since September.
“I think we grew together as a whole core. Like, we started out unbelievably close, like something I probably haven’t been a part of in my career, of how close we had been, but through the little things, we’ve stayed together, like, even after the loss against Queen’s in the semifinals, after the game we all just stayed in the locker room and were there for each other. Like, you don’t see that too often, we stayed together and we didn’t leave each other until we all felt comfortable,” Van Lierop said.
Like multiple young athletes, Van Lierop has experienced many challenges and adversities to get him to the player he is today. One such challenge, is the fact he had other hopes at the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) draft.
“I think, for me, when I was 16, doing the OHL draft, I always thought I was going to get something, but once that didn’t come up, I didn’t really know what exactly to do, and then my coach at the time, and his son, another guy on my team then, gave me the opportunity to go down into the States, and I think that really helped me out in the long run,” Van Lierop said.
Despite the challenges and adversities, he has faced, Van Lierop also believes he has grown as a player and as a person on and off the ice due to those challenges.
“On the ice I’ve definitely grown more consistent. I’m not as, game-to-game, I try to stay consistent throughout the year, and I play with emotion, but I don’t ride my emotions, I kind of stay an even keel through the whole year. I try to at least,” Van Lierop said.
“Off the ice, I’ve definitely grown in my ability to manage my time and where I want to put all my effort. I like to put my effort into everything I possibly can, but I’ve learned to pick and choose more what I would like to put all of my effort into,” he added.
Similarly, the lessons that Van Lierop has learned, also tie into how he feels he has grown as a person. Because of these lessons, he believes he’s a better and more mature player.
“I think the biggest one is keeping my emotions in check. I’ve always been an emotional player on the ice where I get really tempered, or I’m way too relaxed, so it has allowed me to be more even keel all the time. And it has helped me in a lot of situations where I could get overwhelmed, or riled up, and it’s allowed me to stay back and really listen and take it in, instead of disagreeing and arguing about it,” Van Lierop said.
As for the future in terms of his own hockey career, Van Lierop hopes to go play in Europe for a year or two, but, before that, he’ll ride out his years as a Gee-Gee and see where that takes him.
And if you’re a junior hockey player interested in going down the student-athlete life, Van Lierop believes his own student-athlete experience before university has helped make him become a more mature person and player.
“I think being a student athlete is unbelievable. I think it’s allowed a lot of players different opportunities, and I think they should be introduced to it earlier on other than just the OHL, and Western Hockey League (WHL), because it’s a different path that allows guys, especially guys that haven’t fully developed at 16 years old, a chance to develop more by going through juniors,” Van Lierop said.
“You could be 25 and graduating from an NCAA school, or a USports school, and at that time you’ve had all that time to develop and grow as a player and person, and it could really lead to a lot,” he added.