By Katie Maryschuk
Meet Dirk de Waal – a third-year business student playing hockey at Trinity Western University.
Born in South Africa, but raised on the Canadian Prairies, he hails from a country where hockey is more popular on a field than on ice. Yet, moving from South Africa to Alberta when he was just a baby, in 1995 – first to Valleyview and then later on to Lethbridge – inspired a childhood filled with hockey:
“My older brother wanted to play after a few years in Canada because it was the most popular sport in our small town,” de Waal says. “I eventually followed in his footsteps.”
Starting at the age of four, he learned the fundamentals at the local rink and, by the time he was 11 years old, he earned a spot with a rep team.
Then, when he was still 17 years old, de Waal made the Melville Millionaires – a Junior A team that competes in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Over the course of that season, 2012-13, he tallied two goals and one assist in 32 games. However, once Melville’s season came to end, so too did de Waal’s junior hockey career. The next season, he was cut.
“It’s rare that guys don’t make a second year, but for some reason I had a bad camp” de Waal says.
Failing to make the team, he decided to head home.
The drive from Melville to Lethbridge crosses through Caronport, Sask., which is home to Briercrest College. De Waal had made plans to connect with a friend who was already at Briercrest. When he connected, de Waal discovered the school had a hockey team – the ACAC (Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference) playing Clippers – and the possibility for him to continue his career quickly surfaced.
After a brief discussion with the head coach, Lloyd Friesen, de Waal was invited to a practice. Shortly thereafter, he was added to the team for the 2013-2014 season. Despite sustaining a knee injury within his first week in Caronport, de Waal bounced back and, by the second semester, managed to score four goals and add three assists in nine games. The following year, he was fifth in team scoring with 11 goals and eight assists in 26 games.
“I believe God had his hand in all of that,” de Waal says. “Briercrest helped me find my passion again.”
After two years in Caronport, it was time for something new. Several players on the Briercrest team were looking to play in the CIS, which presented an opportunity to seek change.
“There was nothing bad about Briercrest, I just needed a change,” de Waal says. “Briercrest was an overwhelmingly positive experience and played a large role in shaping me into the person I am today.”
A Briercrest teammate introduced de Waal to TWU assistant coach Chris Trendall, who was also a former Clipper himself. They soon began discussing what it could look like for de Waal to transfer to TWU.
“Dirk was looking for a place to finish his degree and had heard about TWU,” says Spartans head coach Barret Kropf, who also coached at Briercrest from 2004 to 2006. “After talking through the process, he was eager to continue his hockey and education as a Spartan.”
With its faith-based atmosphere and an engaging campus, TWU was a perfect fit for de Waal.
Since arriving in Langley this past fall, he has worked his way into becoming a key contributor for the Spartans.
Despite breaking his thumb in the first game of the regular season, de Waal missed only four games and, since returning, has three goals and four assists in nine games, including five points in TWU’s last five games.
But for de Waal, who is was named one of TWU’s assistant captains, his strengths go well beyond just goals and assists. After all, it wasn’t just hockey that enticed him to the TWU campus.
“He understands the importance of integrating your faith into your sport is all about,” Kropf says. “He is someone who wants to pursue excellence in the classroom and at the arena and is always pushing towards the edge of excellence.”