FORT COLLINS, Colo.--Being a hockey player can be a tough job, but it's nothing compared to that of first responders.
The Colorado Avalanche prospects got a small taste of what it takes to put one's life in harm's way on Monday as the team concluded its 2018 development camp. The players went through a short training session with local firefighters in the morning at the Poudre Fire Authority Training Facility in Northern Colorado.
"It was eye opening at times," said Nick Henry. "You don't realize how hard it is when you kind of just see stuff, but when you're actually put in their shoes and do stuff that they do it's something that is very hard. I'm pretty tired from it."
The players suited up from head to toe in nearly full firefighting gear, from boots to fire-resistant pants and jacket to a helmet. They also wore the oxygen supply tank on their backs, just like the pros do when they go to work, which brought the final weight of equipment to around 50 pounds. The only thing missing was the actual oxygen mask.
After getting the gear, the prospects learned a bit about what the equipment does and how it works before being split into three groups to take part in different challenges: pig crates, high rise attack and firefighter rescue.
Each one brought its own set of difficulties.
"We figured we would try something different, and no better group here than at the Poudre fire department academy. They've been unbelievable," said Avalanche director of player development David Oliver. "Every one of our guys are soaked to the bone, but it's a different kind of sweat. They are actually having fun, but they're having fun and not in their own element. They're doing something that these guys do every day to save lives and help people save their homes and stuff."
Pig crates involved the players in groups of two working together to navigate through a tight, twisted maze of sorts while wearing the bulky equipment. It is part of what Poudre firefighting trainees need to master in order to be confident in small, dark spaces while in awkward gear.
The Avs got through the first challenge fairly quickly, so the training center decided to up the difficulty for them--if they were comfortable doing it. They brought the players to another type of maze, but this time they had to crawl their way through even more awkward obstacles that made getting stuck a common occurrence.
Not every player chose to do the second pig crate challenge, but the ones that did came out of it tired and drenched in sweat. Some even it said it was the hardest thing they've ever done.
It was a first-hand look for the young Avs on what firefighters go through and need to prepare for. The players actually got off easy, as actual trainees have to do the same thing with a blindfold on.
The next challenge, the firefighter rescue, was what it sounds like. The drill was to simulate a search and rescue of a firefighter or person becoming trapped or unconscious from a situation.
The players once again paired up in groups of two and crawled next to one another while scanning the floor with axes and other firefighting tools. One person was the wall guy--touching the wall while creating a mental map of the room--while the other was the room guy--roughly two feet from the wall guy helping to search for individuals. With the tools, it helped them search nearly a six-foot area on the floor at a time.
The high rise attack simulated putting out an elevated fire.
The Colorado players carried two types of hoses--attack and charge lines--up six stories, connected them and then communicated with the ground to get water from a firetruck below.
Each prospect then had the chance to use the hose to try and knock off a green bucket on a nearby power line. Using the high-pressured hose was harder than it seemed as none of the Avs could hit the bucket cleanly, but neither could the firefighter instructors.
While there were difficult parts to the three training stations, the players came away with smiles after each session.
"It was a great experience for me," said rookie Martin Kaut. "I really enjoyed being there."
Oliver and the other Avalanche staff watching came away impressed with how the players were able to work as a team and get through the challenges.
"They go through three different events up here, and every one of them is unique and it takes a different kind of skillset and leadership set to accomplish those drills that they are doing," Oliver said. "A lot of information that us guys that are standing around watching this can absorb and learn from. It's been a great experience up here."
Oliver and the rest of the development staff's goal during the summer minicamp was to give the players a roadmap on what it takes to make it in the NHL. It's not easy as the players learned from the on-ice practices, off-ice workouts and the other activities on the schedule.
Monday's event was meant to give the players a fun day away from the rink while also getting them out of their comfort zone.
"There is nothing but smiles over there, but they are sweating and they are working," Oliver said. "So mission accomplished for us as a staff."