ST. LOUIS - It’s not every day that a youth hockey player gets the chance to take a pass from a Blues legend like Al MacInnis
or Keith Tkachuk
, but that’s exactly what five-year-old Brendan Eskridge did on Wednesday.
MacInnis demonstrated a drill and passed the puck to Brendan, who tried his best to mimic the moves of the Hockey Hall of Famer.
That's a unique opportunity that not even Santa Claus could leave under the tree.
Nearly 70 children are participating in the Blues Youth Hockey Holiday Camp at Scottrade Center this week. The three-day camp is designed for kids ages 5 through 14 and helps them improve their skating, passing and shooting skills. In addition, campers get to share the ice and learn from MacInnis, Tkachuk, Bernie Federko, Jamie Rivers, Terry Yake and Bruce Racine.
“You try to work on the fundamentals: the skating, passing and shooting,” MacInnis said. “If they get the fundamentals down, they will enjoy the game a lot more and play a lot longer. There’s probably no better place to spend a few days of their holiday break than at Scottrade (Center).”
The Blues typically run a youth hockey camp during the offseason, but decided to add another camp this year during the holiday break. Camp began on Wednesday and will wrap up with sessions on Friday and Saturday. Each camper will receive two 90-minute on-ice sessions each day in addition to classroom learning and off-ice training.
“There’s an enjoyment to seeing kids get better,” said Sean Ferrell, the camp’s lead instructor. “Not only have you helped somebody get better, but you’ve taken three or four hours of their day and turned it into something that’s memorable, something that for the rest of their lives, they can look back on it and say ‘that was just an amazing experience.’”
If you ask Brendan what he’s learned so far at camp, he’s likely to give you a full demonstration. After his second on-ice session on Wednesday, he was running up and down the locker room hallway at Scottrade Center, showing everyone who would listen how he went forehand, then backhand, before taking a shot on goal.
“I watch him down there, and I see him look up (at the rafters). It’s really neat for him to be able to play where a lot of his idols play,” said Brendan’s mother, Rachel. “I think one of the greatest things for us is watching him develop as a player and make new friends. When he first started on the ice, it was definitely a challenge, but watching him build up that self-confidence is really rewarding.”
Youth hockey in St. Louis has really begun to flourish over the last decade. The number of kids getting involved in hockey has grown, the facilities have improved and several former NHL players have taken active roles in coaching youth teams.
But all of it starts at camps like this one.
“It’s a feel-good kind of a thing. After the third day (of this camp), everyone is going to leave here feeling like they’ve accomplished something,” said Rivers. “It’s always great to build these relationships with the players and see them develop over the next few years as they progress throughout whatever level they’re playing at.
“These kids are doing drills they’re not accustomed to and we’re putting them through a lot. We’re getting the best out of them. They’re a good group of kids and I see a lot of smiles. That’s what it’s all about.”