Kids watch their favorite players on television gliding in what seems an effortless manner across the smooth surface of a rink and look to emulate it themselves. It's not unusual to hear about NHL players who strapped on their first pair of skates soon after they first learned to walk.
However, not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to their own frozen pond -- and even for those lucky enough to have an indoor rink nearby, ice time can get expensive. But as it turns out, there's plenty an aspiring young player can do off the ice both to develop skills and promote the type of attitude and leadership abilities necessary to be successful in the game.
In fact, a significant portion of the Canadian Tire Hockey School NHL Skills Camp held on Feb. 17 at the Don Hartman NE Sportsplex in Calgary took place in a gymnasium adjacent to the rink where 40 lucky campers between the ages of 6 and 12 got to skate and learn from Flames alumni Lanny McDonald, Jamie Macoun and Perry Berezan.
What they received from the program put on by Larry Pearson, whose background in education spans three decades, was a series of activities that stressed not just the physical aspect of hockey, but the mental as well.
"The goal is to get kids involved and engaged in fun team challenges that require efficient teamwork," said Pearson, whose work in the game includes a long-time involvement with the Roger Neilson Hockey Camp. "The ultimate compliment you can receive is that you're a team player."
With the assistance of McDonald, a Hockey Hall of Famer and 500-goal scorer, Pearson began one of his sessions with a game of what he called "forecheck tag." The campers paired off and were given foam noodles that took the place of sticks. When Pearson blew his whistle, they power-walked while trying to tag their partner on the legs. At the same time, they were taught to keep their heads up and on a swivel, the way a hockey player must during a game. In trying to elude their partner's tag, they mimicked the frequent changing of direction a skater goes through as the puck moves around the ice.
Pearson's drills encompassed both individual and team components, like one involving a giant fitness ball the campers needed to keep up in the air. Building leg strength is an important part of skating well, and the drill emphasized campers keep their legs bent to create power while also stressing the importance of everyone involved being ready to contribute, as one or two of them could not keep the ball in the air but as a cohesive unit they could achieve the goal for a lengthy period of time.
"The goal is to get kids involved and engaged in fun team challenges that require efficient teamwork. The ultimate compliment you can receive is that you're a team player." -- Larry PearsonDuring this drill, Pearson again told the campers to "be alert to the change of direction" while McDonald could be heard intoning, "Talk to each other."
In order to reinforce skill sets necessary for breakouts and forechecks, another drill involved give-and-go passing with a ball and small devices called bobsleds in which after passing the ball along from one bobsled to the next, the campers would then run to the end of the line to provide support so the process could keep going. Keeping both hands on the bobsled was tantamount to keeping both hands on your stick.
"The lesson is to communicate and not rush," Pearson said. "Rushing leads to mistakes."
Pearson's off-ice drills were meant to teach the youngsters how to deal with challenges, pressure and frustration in a fun manner while they worked as a team to achieve a common goal.
"Those are awesome drills, and they're so easy for kids to understand," McDonald said.