May 6, 2013

NEHJ's 17th annual summer hockey camp guide

By Jesse Connolly

Campers at Erik Nates Euro Hockey run through drills. 

Back in my day.

We’ve all heard our fair share of stories that have started with those four tone-setting words. Here’s another one for you.

Back in my day — in the context of being a candidate to head to a summer hockey camp, of course — the world was a lot different that it is today. OK, so I went to high school in the early 2000s, but hear me out now. A look at the technology of yesteryear says it all.

My cell phone was shaped like and practically possessed the weight of a brick. My MP3 player held 16 songs. My mom thought I was a fool for shelling out all $250 of my Christmas money one year on a DVD player (turns out those things did catch on, Mom).There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no way of Instagramming our favorite Pinterests. The closest thing we had to social media was an AOL chat room.

By no means was I part of the “we were forced to go outside to have fun” generation, but it’s clear that today’s youth practically lives in an entirely different universe than the one I grew up in a decade ago.

Hockey camps have stayed with the times and embraced those changes, leveraging the web, social media and all of the latest gadgets and gizmos to their benefit. But at the same time, they’ve maintained a sense of tradition, sticking to their core values while utilizing the same tools of the trade that have been around for ages.

In this special report with New England Hockey Journal’s 17th annual summer hockey camp guide, we examine all that and more.

Info overload

If you’re a parent looking to send the young, eager hockey players in your household off to camp, chances are the first place you start to scope things out is online.

 “You can get information on camps from across the world now,” said longtime NHL defenseman Brent Sopel, who now runs a camp catering to blueliners called Academy of Defense. “As far as camps for defensemen, there’s very few out there, and none with someone that has the experience that I have. Through the Internet, you can search that, you can find my website and you can have an opportunity to come to this camp. Before, if you didn’t have those resources — you didn’t send out your pamphlets to the right states or provinces in Canada — these kids would never find about it.”

Camp owners and staff members not only have the ability to build up informative websites for players and parents to stumble upon. They also can use the web as a tool to determine which areas across the globe they should pour their effort and advertising money into.

“I also do my own research for marketing purposes, just trying to figure out where the kids are coming from,” said Patti Crowe, who owns Elite Hockey Training. “I do big mailings that target certain ZIP codes of kids. It’s all about trying to figure out where we should reach out to in order to get more exposure for our camp.”

TV rules the nation

Out-of-market games used to be a rarity during the regular season for most fans, as they could go years between seeing certain teams on a national broadcast. Over the past decade or so, however, the television landscape has changed dramatically.

“If you’re lucky enough to get the Center Ice package, you can catch 10 to 12 games a night,” said Sopel. “Every intermission they’ll interview players, and sometimes they talk about specific things that happened, whether a move or anything like that. A kid may see something there that they didn’t notice during the game. Then they can go out on the ice the next day and try it themselves. Successful or not, they’ll keep working on it and it may be something they can add to their bag of tricks.”

The social scene

Long gone are the days where the primary form of child-parent communication was a handwritten postcard from camp.

“Our social media, between Facebook and Twitter, we post a lot of pictures each week and we try to encourage parents to visit them,” said Cliff Brown of CAN/AM Hockey. “We’ll update it with videos throughout the week showing what the group is doing, certain kids performing little fun songs as a group, things like that. Before you’d drop your kid off at camp and maybe get a phone call during the week. Now, you can go to our social media and see photos and videos of your child.”

CAN/AM also is now benefitting from another social medium when camps are in session: Skype.

“A new one we’ve developed is using Skype, utilizing social media,” Brown said. “We have guest lectures. The summer is often the only downtime of the year, so we can have someone come in and give a lecture for a half-hour or an hour on specific topics. People like Cammi Granato with our girls program will Skype with them during the week, and that’s just one example. It’s a great tool to have.”

And when all is said and done and the campers go their separate ways, Brown has witnessed firsthand how social media has provided a way for kids to keep in touch with one another.

“My kids are part of camp as well,” said Brown. “I’ve seen it from a dad’s perspective that they keep in contact with all these friends from camp no matter where they’re from in the world. It’s really neat. Once you train together and go to camp together, you forge these friendships. By in large, it’s great.”

Radar love

When it comes to the advancement of on-ice tools, some camps have certainly given cutting-edge technology a shot. Real Turcotte, who’s taught countless lessons throughout his 43 years running Turcotte Hockey School, used to use a machine he “permanently borrowed” from NASA that could measure a player’s acceleration accurate to one-millionth of a second.

But like many others, he’s found the old, reliable gadgets are still just as effective as they were in decades past.

 “With the radar gun, it’s pretty simple,” Turcotte said. “It’s a matter of having them shoot a few shots and then see how they increase from the beginning of the week to the end of the week. It’s the wrist shot, the backhand, the snap shot and the slap shot. We use that in our testing. Otherwise, it’s all your opinion over my opinion over this guy’s opinion. It’s mathematically exact.”

To help a player improve, tangible numbers like that are vital.

“We use different technologies to measure kids’ accuracy, speed, shots, how fast they can do certain races,” said Brown. “Everyone will get their own personal time, but we’ll also get a group average to see how well you do amongst your peers each week. It’s a great way to measure where your child stands in the group they’re playing with.”

Straight to video

Paul Vincent (right) talks with Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa. (Photo: Paul Vincent's Prospects Development Hockey)

At the end of the day, video review remains the No. 1 teaching tool for countless camps.

Garry Hebert of the World Academy of Hockey likes to film close-up shots of a player’s skating stride, then go back and analyze that with each individual to make them more efficient at the most integral part of the game.

“If I focus in with a wide-angle lens, and then zero in with more of a small, short-focus break in the frames of the film,” said Hebert, “what happens is the revelation and enlightenment to a player’s understanding of their skating style unfolds right before his eyes. The more he can see what I call the Tuque, when his blades severely tilt and angulate, he notices the more he can get his hips and torso to drop, the knees follow and the thighs, and the upper body will often remain on a level plane. The player ends up feeling and experiencing a brand new mode of skating. ... You start to skate a lot faster with a lot less effort.”

But video analysis isn’t limited to watching what the campers did on the ice.

“We utilize some YouTube clips of guys like Sidney Crosby in practice, show what he does and explain why,” said Paul Vincent, who now works independently in running Paul Vincent’s Prospect Development Hockey. “A friend of mine named Wally Koczak from western Canada who used to work in the NHL years ago just finds clips of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or any one of the superstars. He’ll watch what they do at practice, then he’ll find clips from the game where they use similar moves. He’ll download the clip of the player making that move. He’ll take clips of players not having their feet in the right direction and how they got beat, and then he’ll show the right way to do it.” 

“I’ll try to incorporate in whatever we worked on that day,” Sopel said of using video review. “You want to follow up and show them. If that’s what we’re working on that day, I want to show some clips that day on what we’re talking about. You can always re-emphasize with a kid by showing him an NHL player doing it. If you keep working at things, that’s how you’ll make it to where you want to be.”

Too much technology?

While we all thought we might’ve had it rough with our seemingly primitive devices growing up, there are certainly downsides to the constant access kids now have to today’s gadgets. Ultimately, camps have done a superb job of harnessing the benefits of technology and keeping the effects of its detractors to a minimum.

“I’ve had so many parents thank me for not allowing cell phones at camps,” said Crowe. “They’ve sent their kids to other camps and they just sit in their rooms and text, or coaches have to take their cell phones away from them in the locker room when they’re talking.

“We have a ‘no cell phone’ policy, no computers, no iPads. It allows the kids to meet the other kids at camp. It leads to more team-building and more interactions, rather than them sitting on their cell phones and texting kids back home. They’re much more in the moment when they’re at camp with us.”

Making the most of that precious time they have with their students, no matter how many fancy tools or elements of technology they may utilize, is ultimately what matters most to those looking to mold youngsters into great hockey players.

“Everybody has a different philosophy,” said Vincent. “My goal is to make you better than when you came in, hopefully, and help make a player understand no one can wave a magic wand to make you a good player. Only you can make yourself a better player. You’re constantly reinforcing it. If we’re doing a drill and you do it wrong, I’ll make you start all over again. You keep doing that process ’til you do it right. We’re going to help you by not just telling you but showing you how to do it right.”

Whether that’s on Skype, a 50-inch HDTV or a good old-fashioned whiteboard, those lessons can now be taught in countless ways. But the message, for the most part, will remain the same as it’s always been — even back in your day.

Check out more from our annual summer hockey camp guide:

* Hockey Nutrition - How to maximize your performance at camp

* The Hockey Mom - Camp choices: Get input, but honor your instincts

* The Goalie Guru - Goalie camps can solve auto-body shop approach

Twitter: @NEHockeyJournal