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Big Walt's Camp Leaves Lasting Memories

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

Kevin McLoughlin remembers watching Keith Tkachuk park himself in front of the opposition’s goalie, screening him while he waited to deflect a shot or pick up a garbage goal in front of the net.

Tkachuk scored a majority of his 538 NHL goals that way, and McLoughlin remembers watching them play out on his TV in Peoria, Illinois, where he grew up a Blues fan practically since the day he was born.

So when McLoughlin skated onto the ice at the Hardee’s IcePlex in Chesterfield this weekend at Big Walt’s Fantasy Camp and saw that he was sharing the ice with Blues legends like Tkachuk, Al MacInnis, Scott Mellanby and Bruce Affleck, it took just about everything he had to remain standing on his skates.

“It was just overwhelming. I’ve had butterflies in my stomach for the last three days and it’s hard to sleep at night because I’m so excited,” McLoughlin said. “To get down here and have my jersey hanging on the wall with my name on it, it’s like walking into a pro locker room. It’s awesome.”

McLoughlin was one of more than 90 men and women who signed up for the camp, which puts individual players together on teams for three days of hockey games. His team was made up mostly of campers like himself, but the roster was infused with former and current Blues players, giving the games a unique once-in-a-lifetime feel.

The camp cost $600 for an individual registration or $6,000 for an entire team registration, which included 10 spots and a goalie. All campers played in two 40-minute games per day and received dinner and drinks after all three nights of competition. The camp also gave each camper their own jersey, socks and more.

The money raised from the event will go to help youth hockey in the area, including paying expenses for families that couldn’t afford to keep their child in organized hockey. The money also will help purchase youth hockey equipment or pay for ice time in learn-to-play programs.

“This is easy for me. I get to go out and play with a bunch of guys who want to just play hockey,” Tkachuk said. “The guys behind the scenes do all the work, like Bruce Affleck, Kelly Chase and Terry Yake. This is a fun event where we can raise some money. It’s a good way to get the Alumni involved and get some of the current Blues out here, so we’re excited to be a part of it.”

Active players that participated in the camp included David Backes, Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Barret Jackman and Vladimir Tarasenko, to name a few. Blues Chairman Tom Stillman also joined a team, while Coach Ken Hitchcock and General Manager Doug Armstrong joined the camp for a postgame Q&A session with campers on Friday.

Yake, who played for the Blues from 1997-2000, is responsible for putting the event together. He recently began working with the Blues as the Director of Alumni Relations.

“(The campers here) enjoy hearing the stories, that’s one thing that everybody talks about. Just some of the stuff that we say in the locker room and on the bench, we try to treat this like a real game. I imagine they appreciate the skill of the NHL players here, especially the current guys. Even (Tkachuk), he looks like he can still play out there. You can see that every time he touches the puck, it’s just a different level of patience and composure. I know the campers out here can appreciate how good the NHL guys are, and I think that’s what they come for.

“They come to see how good they are and hear the stories about days in the NHL.”

Most of the campers would probably agree with Yake. It’s no doubt that the Blues Alumni are truly treasured in the St. Louis community.

The opportunity to spend time with them is definitely the biggest reason why Missouri Army National Guard First Lieutenant Chris Wilson and Specialist Steven Bereitschaft signed up for the camp. A week ago, both of them were serving their country in Afghanistan. Now, less than 48 hours after returning home, both couldn’t imagine missing this unique opportunity.

“It’s something else to look forward to coming home. You get to see your family and friends, and everybody you left behind. But I also had something else to look forward to, and for me, it’s been seven years since I’ve been on the ice, so I was pretty excited about this camp,” Wilson said.

Added 23-year-old goalie Brett Crowe: “It’s a good opportunity to meet some Blues legends. I probably would have never had a chance to play with these guys, and now I have.”

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