It was hard, grueling work, both mentally and physically.
Four days of power skating classes, educational sessions, fitness activities and skills drills.
That's what Colorado Avalanche Development Camp has been like for those in attendance, but it’s all with a purpose.
“It really is an eye opener for a lot of guys on how hard people work to try and play in the National Hockey League. They set that bar pretty high,” David Oliver, the Avalanche’s director of player development, said at the conclusion of camp.
The whole point is to teach. Whether it is on-ice stuff, off-ice stuff, the stuff in between the other stuff, Oliver and his staff are there to impart wisdom while also providing the forwards, defensemen and goalies with the expectations of the organization.
The approach comes in two parts. First, there’s the broad strokes of group lessons. Then, there’s the one-on-one sessions, tailored specifically to each person.
“The development curve for every kid is different. Some kids you have to teach how to eat, sleep, train, do the whole nine yards, but there’s other kids that are on the cusp of maybe playing pro or cracking an NHL roster,” Oliver said. “When you get into the individual meetings that we do every night, we kind of get inside their head and figure out where they are and then we adjust their plans accordingly.
“I thought the guys made a pretty good adjustment this week.”
Things weren’t always posies and sunny Denver days at the camp. Sometimes tough conversations had to be conducted in order to get a player on the right track.
“The on-ice stuff is real good,” said Oliver. “There’s still some guys that need to tighten things up off the ice. One of the hard conversations is always [about] the level of commitment it takes to eat right if you’re going to be a pro… Maybe in their brains it’s not quite as important as the hockey or strength components, but that’s one of the biggest hurdles that I see with a lot of young kids, really dialing in their nutrition.
“If they don’t eat right, it’s because they’re not committed to eating right, and that’s one of our main focuses of our development camp.”
Yet after all the talks, trainings, teachings, all of the tutelage and the testing of wills, the players at Avs Development Camp got to have a little fun to close things out.
Following a staff draft, which took place behind closed doors, three teams emerged ready for a 3-on-3 tournament, followed by a skills competition and a shootout challenge.
Coached by development consultants Adam Foote (Team Burgundy), Brian Willsie (Team Blue) and Brett Clarke (Team White), the five-minute, double-elimination round robin was a big hit with the players and fans watching from the bleachers above the ice at Family Sports Center.
“Obviously, the 3-on-3 is all about skating and skill, and that’s the National Hockey League,” Oliver offered. “We wanted to see where they’re at at the end of the week. The skills stuff, what we tried to do with the skills competition was incorporate all the things we did with [skating consultant Tracy Tutton]. We incorporated that into our practices and then we put it all together in a skills competition to see who was fastest, quickest, best puck handler, everything we could think of to try to get in there.
“We knew they’d have fun doing it. It’s a competition. These guys love to compete, and to see them have smiles on their faces after a grueling, long, hard week, that’s a lot of fun for us.”
After many tie-breaking shootouts and multiple rematches, Foote’s Burgundy squad came out the victor. And while it was entertaining to observe the ruthless back-and-forth matches as the played out, the scrimmages allowed those watching one last chance to evaluate the 2016 Development Camp class.
For Oliver and his staff, two things in particular stood out.
“The overall work ethic and the speed of our group, it was the best I’ve seen,” he said. “As a staff, upstairs we were just talking about it. Day in and day out, we knew they were sore but nobody said anything. They just showed up and worked and did everything they could every single time they were on the ice. It’s exciting for our group up in the office when we sit around and there’s not a lot of complaints.”
Sure, development is the goal for both the coaches and consultants as well as the players, but you can’t put 22 competitors together and not have some sort of prize at the end.
“We have an Iron Man Award that we hand out every year, and that was the last piece of the puzzle,” Oliver said. “They knew where the scores were, but they didn’t know the names that matched the scores. So everybody was out there trying to get the best time, hoping they’d win