Like any goalie, eight-year-old Charlie Jones knows the importance of being well-protected on the ice. Before leaving the locker room, his skates are laced, his pads are strapped, his chest protector is snug and his goalie mask is on.
As he steps on the ice, he heads to the place he feels most at home: between the pipes.
Charlie is a camper this week at the Blues Youth Hockey Camp at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Mills. For five consecutive days, he’s getting more than two hours of ice time and participating in strength and agility drills to improve himself as a hockey player.
But his most memorable moment so far is when he skated onto the ice Tuesday. Standing near the net was Blues goalie Ben Bishop, who was waiting to greet campers and give them tips on how to become a better goalie.
Charlie’s jaw might have hit the floor if it wasn’t for the chin guard inside his helmet that held it in place.
“I remember being that kid,” Bishop said. “It was the best day ever to be able to skate on the same ice with an NHL guy, so it’s a lot of fun being able to return the favor now that I’m (here). All the smiles make it well worth it.”
For several hours Tuesday, Bishop and Blues forward Patrik Berglund
laced up their skates to spend time with kids at the annual Blues Youth Hockey Camp. They gave campers some pointers about how to be better hockey players. They led by example and showed them how to do individual training drills, and they made mistakes and goofed off a bit so the kids would have a memorable story to share with their friends.
More than 80 children are participating in this year’s camp, which features on-ice and off-ice training exercises designed to make them better hockey players. Off the ice, campers are working on their agility and strength as they race and tip-toe through obstacles, where they learn the importance of staying in shape and good teamwork.
On the ice, Charlie works on his positioning and technique. Others work on their skating, shooting and passing.
“Obviously you do some skating drills, because that’s the most important thing in their early years,” Berglund. “They work real hard and have a lot of fun, so if they keep going to youth camps, they’ll be good players in the future.”
Both Berglund and Bishop got their starts learning from experienced hockey players. For Bishop, he was coached by former Blues players Perry Turnbull and Mike Zuke. Berglund’s dad played hockey in Sweden, so after practices, he was allowed to skate on the ice and learn from his father and his teammates.
Like anything in life, listening to wisdom of those that came before you can go a long way, and it’s probably for that very reason that youth hockey in St. Louis is thriving.
“Every year, you hear more and more stories of St. Louis teams winning championships. A lot of that has to do with the alumni sticking around and coaching the kids,” Bishop, who grew up in St. Louis, said. “Guys like Al (MacInnis), Jeff Brown, Kelly Chase and a number of others are (coaching) now, and you can tell by the success the youth is having (that it’s working).”
A lot of that success starts at camps like these.
“I think I’m learning better skills, how to be a better hockey player and learning about what the Blues players have to do to stay in shape,” said Ben Opich, an 11-year-old defenseman and second-year participant at the Blues camp.
“I learned how to lift the puck up a little higher,” said eight-year-old right winger Oliver Koehler.
“It really helped with the stick-handling. It was awesome,” added Brooke Hance, an eight-year-old who still hasn’t chosen a position she’d like to play.
Each child will take away something different from this year’s camp, but one thing is for sure: they’ll have a good story to share when they return to school next month.
Of course, that's assuming they can pick their jaw up off the floor by then.