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Jackets aim for educational experience at development camp

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Chris Clark wanted Blue Jackets prospects to have a well-rounded experience at development camp, so he set out to make some significant changes to the program.

In the years before Clark, a former Blue Jackets forward who played nearly a dozen seasons in the NHL, took over as Columbus’ player development coach, there was a different feel to the camp and while it wasn't a bad structure, per se, Clark thought a few things needed to be done differently.

To start, Clark sought to make it an educational week for the prospects, many of whom might not be familiar with American culture or have never been to Columbus. He wanted to make sure they receive counsel on important aspects of life as a pro athlete, such as managing money, dealing with the media and how to maintain a balanced diet.

Now running his second development camp - and with the help of Blue Jackets assistant GM Bill Zito - Clark feels that the current structure to camp will leave the organization’s prospects with a better sense of what it takes to be a professional.

“Even before (I took over), I thought about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to run it,” Clark told “I wanted it to be more educational than on-ice, because at this point in the summer, some guys are on the ice a lot and others aren’t. I don’t want anyone getting hurt - and these guys are competitive - so we decided to be a little more conservative with the ice time.”

As in years past, the prospects will take cooking classes from the team’s in-house chefs at Nationwide Arena and get a crash course on proper ingredients, etc. They’ll cook for each other - which can sometimes be entertaining - and this year, they will learn how to shop for themselves during a pre-arranged trip to a local grocery store.

“With the education aspect of camp, we’re tackling things that they’re going to confront as they grow up,” Clark said. “Some of these guys have never shopped for themselves before, and if we can do this now, these are things they can apply not only now but for the rest of their careers and their lives.

“They’ll have money management classes, media training, CPR classes…it’s good for hockey but it’s also good for them as people.”

Oh yes, there will be on-ice practices and the traditional staples of development camp - but with an added wrinkle this year that Clark's pretty excited about. Rather than a full-team scrimmage to close out camp, the prospects will play a 3-on-3 tournament on Thursday afternoon in lieu of a formal practice.

The tournament is free and open to the public, and is scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. at the OhioHealth Ice Haus. Following Thursday's slate, the prospects will undergo another round of fitness work before exit interviews and departures on Friday; as has been the case in previous years, each prospect will leave Columbus with a solid foundation of what is needed for them to be a Blue Jacket in the near future.

A big part of that plan is laid out by strength and conditioning coach Kevin Collins, who welcomed the prospects on Sunday with a full day of fitness testing and running exercises at a local track. Collins has a tailored plan for every player in the organization, and as prospects come back for development camp in the years ahead, they'll be able to track their progress in multiple aspects of fitness.

"They can gauge themselves and track their progress even if they’re not coming back for training camp, so it’s a good system we have in place to help guys maintain the level we expect from them physically," Clark said. "Kevin’s set it up well where these guys aren’t getting hurt in their workouts, and when they’re in the gym with him, they’re working out but they’re also learning from him about how to do things the right way.

"Some of them won’t be coming back for Traverse City, and others will be coming back in a couple of months. They have to be ready and focused for what’s ahead, because if they’re not, someone else will be."

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