When eight-year-old Henry Lange goes back to school in mid-August, he already knows the first thing he’s going to tell his friends.
“I’m going to tell them to go to Blues Hockey Camp,” he said.
Of course, when August rolls around, the next Blues Youth Hockey Camp will still be 11 months away. But the memories and lessons learned at this year’s camp will give Lange plenty of stories to share with his classmates for the time being.
Like the time he high-fived Blues broadcaster Darren Pang. Or how he improved his hockey skills with former Blues forward Jim Campbell and shared the ice with one of the Blues’ newest additions, goalie Mike McKenna.
More than 90 children participated in the sold-out camp, which was held from July 23 – 27 at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Mills. Each day, campers received 2.5 hours of ice time, off-ice training and top notch instruction from experienced counselors and staff, including Dan Weiss, a defenseman at Niagra University in New York.
“These kids have great attitudes. They’ve all worked hard, and it’s very inspirational to have these kids come up to you, say thanks for coming out and for teaching us,” Weiss said. “When I was growing up, there were always people I looked up to, whether they’re pros or coaches or anyone who helped out, and I still remember those people today. Hopefully, I made a lasting impression on some of these kids and hopefully they will remember this and take the things I’m showing them with them forever.
“I want to set a good example for these guys and have them progress.”
The age and experience levels of the campers varied widely. Children ages 5-12 are welcome to participate and many, like Mason Allen, are first-timers. Others, like 10-year-old J.P. Twombly, have been coming to camp for three years or more.
“These kids are just like we were when we were growing up,” Pang said. “They are kids that look up to guys that have played in the NHL, and they look up to the team more than anything else. When they’re on the ice and they’re skating around and they have the BlueNote on their sweater, it’s pretty exciting.
"For us to be any part of it is great.”
In addition to the on-ice drills, campers participated in strength and agility drills off the ice, where they learned the importance of staying in shape and teamwork. Kids also received behind-the-scenes tours of the Blues practice facility and heard from various people within the organization, including GM Doug Armstrong, current and former players, equipment managers and building operations staff.
“The Blues always want to be involved in the community, and we want to be giving back and we want to spread the joy of the game of hockey,” said Blues Chairman Tom Stillman, who skated with campers on Wednesday. “This is the game in its purest form: kids playing hockey and looking up to the Blues players that come out (here). This is exactly the kind of thing we want to be doing, promoting the game of hockey for the fun of it here in our hometown.”
Added Pang, “When you’re at a youth camp like this one here, you’re making sure that these younger players are just going to have fun, leave the ice, go home to their parents and say ‘man, that was a blast. I love hockey.’
“That’s the ultimate goal.”