Paul Kitchen, head of school at Rothesay Netherwood in New Brunswick, said staff and students have been hit hard by the death of Jordan Boyd.
The 16-year-old boy died Monday after collapsing during a skating drill at tryouts for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Kitchen said the 270-student private school in Rothesay is reaching out to offer support to Boyd's parents, who had been thrilled by their son's academic progress.
"Jordan is a fine, fine young man who worked hard at his academics, who worked hard at his relationship with others," Kitchen said in an interview.
"He was ... this gentle, gentle large boy with this smile on his face."
The league said a physical therapist provided CPR after Boyd fell on the ice, lost consciousness and stopped breathing at a rink in Bathurst, N.B. Results from an autopsy are expected later this week.
Kitchen said Boyd's hockey skills blossomed during the 2012-13 academic year when his team won silver at the World Sport School Championships in Calgary.
He recalled he'd often meet the Grade 10 student hurrying between the dormitory and the rink for additional ice time, where the young man honed his skating and scoring skills.
Boyd was improving his grades and coming to understand the importance of academic excellence, said Kitchen.
He said the death of the six-foot, 176-pound youth has left staff and students struggling to understand how a person who appeared so physically strong would suddenly collapse.
"He's been taken from us and it doesn't make sense to any of us," he said.
Photi Sotiropoulos, a spokesman for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, said it's too early to speculate on what lessons — if any — can be learned from the death.
He said the league will examine the autopsy results carefully and consider if improvements to medical evaluations can be made.
Sotiropoulos noted there has been one prior, similar death in 1978, when 17-year-old Daniel Richard of the Quebec Remparts collapsed and died during a practice after suffering a heart attack.
A media report at the time said the team's medical doctor said Richard suffered from a rare congenital condition that can bring about the shrinking of an artery from the heart. The doctor said the death could have occurred at any time in the youth's life.
Kitchen said he hopes the cause of Boyd's death is established soon.
"Anything we can ever do to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening for one other family is crucial."