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Blues Players Help Youth Hockey Blossom

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

Barret Jackman spent the week at St. Louis Mills for the annual Blues youth hockey summer camp.

  Audio / Photos
Photo Gallery: 2007 Summer Camp

Rick Zombo

on working with kids: 581k

Barret Jackman
on what camp teaches: 244k

Richard Reuben
on players' involvement: 863k
on learning from NHLers: 494k
Richard Reuben traveled west to California this summer, then headed as far east as Europe.

But for Reuben and his two sons, none of those destinations were as exciting as the one waiting for them at the end of a 110-mile trek east on Interstate 70 from his home in Columbia, Missouri.

The Reubens spent two hours on the road to St. Louis last week for the annual Blues Summer Camp, where more than 90 children participated in hockey drills and scrimmages with Blues players Bryce Salvador, Barret Jackman and Jamal Mayers.

With the closest ice rink in Jefferson City, it made sense for the Reubens to pack up and head to St. Louis for the week, where Patrick Reuben, 10, and Daniel Reuben, 8, could get a hands-on experience with hockey from guys that earn their living playing the game at the NHL level.

“We wanted more for our kids than Columbia offers, and this is just a great opportunity for that,” Richard said. “I think they’re learning a lot of particular skills that you’re going to get from people who have been playing hockey for a long time. That’s what I wanted them to get.”

Blues alumni Rick Zombo and Bruce Racine also played a role in the week-long session. For them, spending a week on the ice is anything but a job. 

“If you looked at my feet, you’d know I’ve been in my skates for a long time. It’s the only thing that wears me down,” Zombo said. “On the flip side, it’s the kids that keep boosting your energy to keep going and going. It doesn’t seem like work because when you move one child, it’s well worth it. For them to have that type of self confidence and self esteem to try new things, you’re moving in the right direction. Having a positive effect on these kids on a daily basis, that’s not work.”

Campers spent several hours a day participating in rigorous on-ice drills, including both shooting and skating exercises. They also received off-ice skills training and learned valuable lessons, such as ways to respect the game, keep the locker rooms clean and to not let a jersey touch the floor. 

But when camp wrapped up with scrimmage games on Friday, the Reubens were sad that it couldn’t have lasted longer, even if it meant living out of a Drury Inn for a few more days. Spending a full week in a hotel was a small price to pay for the on-ice experience the kids received.

“I think it’s pretty awesome because I know that a lot of kids don’t get an opportunity like this,” Patrick said. “I feel like I’m such a lucky guy.”

The Reubens have been all over the country when it comes to watching hockey. Richard used to own partial season tickets for the Atlanta Flames. Patrick was born in Los Angeles and loves the Kings, while Daniel was born in Boston and sides with the Bruins. They watch the Blues on television and road trip to Scottrade Center for games several times a year, making sure to catch the Kings and Bruins anytime they visit. 

It’s stories like these that keep Salvador involved in the community.

“We like working with kids. We were all there at one time, and I think the three of us share the same thoughts and beliefs about how cool it would have been to go to camp with an NHL player. That’s kind of how we look at it,” Salvador said. “It’s just one of those things that you’ll remember the smile on the kids’ faces. It keeps you feeling young even though we’re getting old.” 

Campers were allowed to dress in the Blues locker room at St. Louis Mills.
But Zombo, who serves as the director for the Hockey Academy of St. Louis, gets a different thrill out of it. He’s not looking to feel young, but he feels as if teaching the game of hockey is an effective way to teach kids about life.

“It’s not just drills, it’s what we’re teaching these kids here,” Zombo said. “Keep a clean dressing room, don’t throw your jerseys, thank you and no thank you. It’s life. Hockey mirrors life so closely it’s crazy. I can step on the ice and I can tell you within three minutes who needs to be asked to take out the garbage twice and who doesn’t take it out at all. 

“I know this game inside and out, and I know children,” Zombo added. “When the two are put together, it just meshes. It’s harmony.”

That train of thought sums up why these players stay so involved in teaching children the game. With youth hockey in St. Louis starting to grow, they figure there is a role for them to play in developing interest in the game at a young age. 

“Mayers, Salvador and Jackman, they understand that they are the pinnacle of hockey,” Zombo said. “But they have never forgot that the foundation is these young kids.”

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