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Youth Group

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues
Campers at the Blues Youth Hockey Camp gather to listen to counselors describe a drill. Camp begin in late July and ends Friday at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Mills. | Photo Gallery
When nine-year-old Robbie Eastman goes back to school in late August, he’ll have quite a story to share with his friends and classmates.

Of course, that’s assuming he can find the words to describe it by then.

On Wednesday, shortly after participating in hockey drills with Blues players, Eastman was so excited he was nearly speechless. Still tired and sweaty from more than an hour of on-ice activity, Eastman said it was “pretty exciting.”

And that’s about all he could muster.

Eastman is one of nearly 80 children participating in Blues Youth Hockey Camp at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Mills this week. The camp features on-ice and off-ice training exercises designed to improve hockey skills for children ages 5-16.

Off ice, the kids are working on their agility and strength as they race and tip-toe through obstacles. They are also learning the importance of teamwork through various team building exercises.

On the ice, they work on their skating, shooting and passing.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Blues forward Brad Winchester, who skated with campers on Monday. “Certainly the kids have a lot of energy and just to be out there and help out in the community any way we can, it’s something we take a lot of pride in.”

Campers get up to 2 ½ hours of ice time each day and also get a chance to win autographed Blues memorabilia. In addition, kids get to take part in classroom teaching sessions with camp counselors and Blues players.

But perhaps even more exciting is the rare opportunity to share the ice with NHL players. Winchester, David Backes, Erik Johnson, Cam Janssen and Ben Bishop have spent time on the ice with the campers.

“There was nothing like this (when I was growing up),” said Winchester, who was raised in Madison, Wisconsin. “We had access to some college guys, but seeing older players in a position you aspire to be, I think that’s motivation in itself.”

Blake Armstrong is serving as a camp counselor and grew up around hockey, once participating as a camper in Hockey Tough, a summer youth camp run by NHL veterans Derian Hatcher and Brendan Morrow in Dallas. Blake is the son of Doug Armstrong, the Blues Vice President of Player Personnel.

“Blues Camp has been good. The players come out, they skate with the kids and they love that,” Blake said. “The kids are excited. They’re doing a lot of stuff in the Blues locker room and they get to see everything the Blues are doing. They watch them practice, they skate with them, take instruction from them. It’s an awesome experience.”

Winchester said although the camp was designed for kids, he was having plenty of fun, too.

“Some of the kids, their equipment is too big and their helmets are bigger than they are,” he said. “They’re just out there trying to shoot pucks and work on their skating. To interact and sit down afterwards and maybe talk to them a little bit…it’s all about being out there to have a good time.”

And that’s exactly what the kids are doing.

And some, like Eastman, are too excited to talk about it.

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