One of the Blue Jackets organization's primary community initiatives is to give kids the opportunity to pick up skates and sticks, get out on the ice and fall in love with the game.
While there are many ways for kids to get involved with hockey, one way is through the Blue Jackets Summer Hockey School, which is held every year at Columbus-area rinks.
This year's camp began at the OhioHealth Chiller North this week and will continue through Aug. 7. During that time, the enlisted young hockey players will concentrate on the fundamentals of the game including skating, stick handling and passing. They will receive additional special instruction, based on age, that includes focuses on positional play and power skating, as well as working on team play and proper checking techniques.
Rob Schriner, the assistant general manager of The Chiller ice rinks and director of the Blue Jackets Summer Hockey School, said he’s watched the popularity and interest in the sport grow first-hand in Columbus.
“Being the director of the hockey camp for 15 years, I’ve seen it evolve,” Schriner said. “It’s nice to have the ability to have beautiful facilities, like the Chillers, and the expansion of youth hockey in Columbus, obviously with the Jackets in town. It’s great to see not only the camp grow in size, but the involvement with the Blue Jackets and the good community feel we get with the kids.”
Schriner said the growth of youth hockey in the area is hugely due to the Blue Jackets presence. He added that there are about 270 kids enrolled in camp this year, and said that number is increasing every year.
PHOTO BLOG: Clarkson, McElhinney visit CBJ Hockey School
Additionally, an important aspect of the camp that draws kids is having Blue Jackets players, like Curtis McElhinney and David Clarkson, come to the camp and interact with the campers, on and off of the ice.
“That’s the first thing the kids ask is, ‘who’s showing up', and if Stinger's coming,’" Schriner said. “So when (the players) do come, the guys are obviously great with the kids, they get a little question-and-answer, get an autograph, and that makes the kids really happy and excited that they get to actually be around a Blue Jackets player.”
On Tuesday, McElhinney worked with the young goalies and on Wednesday, Clarkson assisted in the on-ice practice.
“It adds a lot of value,” Schriner said of having the players take part. “It shows that there’s definitely a community feel and a sense from the NHL club to come out to the local ice rink and the Blue Jackets Hockey School, it’s obviously being the sister company of the Blue Jackets, that’s how we work hand in hand.”
After an introduction and Q&A with the kids, Clarkson signed autographs and then hit the ice to assist the coaches and staff.
“I had mentioned earlier that it reminds you of when you were a kid and, to me, I enjoy being around kids and working with them, and to get to go out there, you know they’re pretty excited,” Clarkson said. “I think we’re lucky to be athletes and do what we do and I think anytime you can get out there and talk to a kid or get to know them a bit. I really enjoyed myself as well, so it was great.”
Clarkson said he’s quickly realized how strong central Ohio's youth hockey presence and program is -- and it's continuously growing.
“That’s something I’m learning,” Clarkson said. “I mean, everyone’s kind of been telling me and you see some of the kids there that are zipping around and you see the (Sherwood) brothers that are on their way up through the program. I think it’s exciting for the community, it’s a big sports town, as I found out being here for a short period of time and I think it’s great that the game of hockey is starting to become bigger and bigger in Columbus.”
Just like Clarkson when he was younger, many of the kids at camp hope to one day play in the NHL. Vondolee Delgado-Nixon, whose 11-year-old son attended camp, said her son has really enjoyed the experience - so much so that it’s his third year back.
“He’s just loved this experience,” Delgado-Nixon said. “It means everything to him to be able to skate with a real NHL player, because to him it means that maybe someday he can become a NHL player, which is really what he wants to do.”
And when it comes to giving back to the community and being a role model to the local kids, Clarkson said that’s what it’s all about.
“I’m very lucky to play a game for a living and to be a part of the Columbus Blue Jackets organization,” Clarkson said. “I’m excited about the fact that they like getting out in the community, they like doing stuff like this and, for me personally, it’s touching to know a little kid wants your autograph or wants something from you because, you know, I was that kid that dreamed of being here.
"I didn’t know if it would happen and I’ve been very fortunate to have a supportive family and people around me that helped me get to where I did and so for them it could be any one of them one day that’s standing here doing this interview, so it’s pretty special to be out there.”
For more information on the 2015 Hockey School dates and how to register, please contact Hockey Director Rob Schriner: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-791-9999 x125.