HAZELWOOD, Mo. - It’s that time of year again.
The time for Jamie Gorham and his daughter, Kylie, to pack their bags and make the 1,010-mile trip from Tampa, FL to St. Louis for the Blues Youth Hockey Camp.
It’s a trip the Gorhams have made each of the last four summers, and it’s one they aren’t likely to stop making until Kylie becomes too old for the camp. In addition to plenty of good father/daughter bonding time, it offers an opportunity to see family and allows Kylie to improve her skills as a 13-year-old ice hockey defenseman.
“You look around the United States, and there are other camps that are closer to us in Florida, but you go with what you trust and you go with what you know,” said Jamie, a native St. Louisan and a youth hockey coach himself. “This is what I know.”
The week-long Blues Youth Hockey Camp began Monday at St. Louis Outlet Mall and features a wide range of young hockey players, from beginners who are just learning the proper way to hold their hockey sticks to 14-year-old advanced players looking to hone their skills before the season starts in the fall.
“I feel like the coaches here are more skillful, and they have more background,” Kylie said after Wednesday’s session. “It’s a much better experience. I’m learning a lot more skating techniques, I’m getting faster and my shot is a lot more powerful.”
The camp is run by Blues Video Coach Sean Ferrell, who has more than 15 years of experience working with professional and youth hockey players on skating and skill development. The rest of the camp coaching staff includes experienced college hockey players or veteran coaches at the youth hockey level.
“A camp like this, you get so many different types of hockey players, kids of all different skill ranges,” Ferrell said. “The most rewarding thing is to see the smiles on their faces when they know they’re getting better.
“We’ve been doing this for so long now that we’ve crafted a really good recipe,” Ferrell added. “We’re slowing things down, we’re breaking the game down into really small areas so there are things that everybody can do. When we have the older kids, we just ask them to go a little bit faster and push a little harder. The faster you go, the harder it is to do. These skills really fit from the beginning all the way up to an NHL player.”
Campers participating this week receive two-and-a-half hours of ice time each day at the Blues’ practice facility. In addition, campers enjoy off-ice workouts and get lace up the skates in the same locker room that David Backes, Alex Pietrangelo and Vladimir Tarasenko uses.
“We come from Southern Illinois and we come out here because the kids enjoy it,” said David Nappier, who has two sons participating in this year’s camp. “I love seeing them have a good time. The kids like the coaches, they know most of them by name and it’s been great. The kids love it and it’s absolutely worth the drive.”
Through the on-ice and off-ice instruction, the campers are learning the basic skills of the game, the importance of teamwork, accountability and more.
“The Blues have worked really hard over the years to grow their presence at the youth hockey level, and you can see it,” Ferrell said. “There are a lot more Blue Notes at the local rinks and kids go home (from this camp) with a smile because they got a chance to be treated like a pro for a week.
“We really try and give them special treatment while they’re here.”
Eight-year-old Alem Garibovic, who is enjoying his second year at camp, said any young players who didn't sign up are missing out.
"I think they missed a lot of stuff," Garibovic said. "We're learning stickhandling, puckhandling and skating drills. We got to do interviews, people got to use GoPros and we got to be on TV!"