Over the summer I ventured across the country to three different hockey camps, each one unique in its own way.
I started off my summer in South Bend, Indiana to play hockey with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, then went to Tarrytown, New York to play at the New York Rangers’ practice facility, and ended the summer in Elmsford, New York at the Pro Ambitions hockey camp, sponsored by the Boston Bruins.
The hockey camp at Notre Dame was amazing. Once I walked in the cold arena and saw the ice, I knew it was going to be a great week. Immediately after we arrived the coaches gathered the kids and parents to tell us what the week would look like, and within hours we were on the ice. Once we went to the locker room to suit up I noticed that we would be playing with, and coached by, Notre Dame’s current players and coaches. I was so excited!
Last March when I went to my first college hockey game at Notre Dame, I never thought I would play on that rink. It was thrilling! Here I am, an 11-year-old kid from the Bronx playing hockey in the third-best hockey facility in the country. I learned what it takes to play at that level. I learned how many hours, drills, and off-ice commitments (including academics) are key to being a Notre Dame hockey player. They taught us to treat each other with respect and honor, and to remember that when we put on a Notre Dame uniform that we represent the program and the school.
Three weeks later in the New York Rangers practice facility, I learned a whole new set of lessons. Rangers hockey camp began with an orientation and introduction to the Rangers, New York Knicks and New York Liberty practice facility. It’s so cool! We were introduced to our coaches and immediately began off-ice training, one of the best parts of this camp. The head trainer conditions players from several different professional sports leagues. He made us work really hard. They taught us about the importance of proper nutrition and made us fill out a daily journal accounting for all of our meals before, during, and after camp.
The best part of being at Rangers camp was playing with the New York Rangers. The week I went Adam Graves, Mark Messier, Ron Greschner, Stephane Matteau, and Dan Blackburn played with us. Graves taught me how to be fast, Messier taught me how to lead, and Matteau taught me how to control the puck. To play with some of the NHL’s best players ever was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’ll never forget.
Pro Ambitions hockey camp was by far the most difficult of the three. From the moment we stepped on the ice, the coaches meant business. There was no room for small talk. We started the day with some of the hardest on-ice drills I’ve ever done. From skating on one leg across the full length of the rink to speed skating and stick handling, the drills were tough. I loved every minute of it. The groups were small. The coaches were intense. The day flew by.
Pro Ambitions introduced me to an aspect of the game that I hadn’t experienced before: how to deal with body contact. They taught me how to handle a check against the boards and when to use my size to my advantage. They taught me how to use my strength and build my endurance. They taught me that if you want to play this game you better stay in shape, put in the hours, and get good grades.
If you are thinking about playing hockey, go to a hockey camp. In one week you learn so much. In three weeks you learn that being a great hockey player means being a great athlete, a great student, and a team player. And, if you are lucky enough to go to camp with your little brother, it’s truly amazing. This week I hit the ice for my first game of the new season. I can’t wait to share what I have learned with my friends. Who says the ice melts in the summer!