GLENDALE – Earlier this month, nearly 100 Phoenix-area kids got to step on the ice at Gila River Arena and skate with some future pros at the first annual Coyotes Hockey School.
“Having an opportunity like this can be extremely rare,” said Tom Johnson, the school’s head instructor. “Not very many kids will ever have the opportunity to skate at an NHL arena, let alone participate in drills with the future stars of the game.”
Coyotes prospects Brendan Perlini, Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak, Ryan MacInnis, Christian Fischer, Jakob Chychrun, Conor Garland, Dysin Mayo and Cam Dineen served as guest instructors throughout the five-day event.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
“The kids enjoyed the prospects, and you could tell they tried a little harder while the prospects were out there,” said assistant coach Zach Izumi, who serves as one of the head coaches for the Arizona Coyotes Hockey Development.
From getting to watch the prospects power skate during lunch break one day – which Izumi said helped the kids realize that even the big names need to do the little things to keep getting better – to getting to hang out on a pro rink, the camp was a young hockey fan’s dream come true.
“I remember going to camps like these as a kid,” said Izumi, who grew up playing hockey out west, “but it was always at our local rinks. It was never at a professional rink, seeing behind-the-scenes stuff and doing off-ice training where the Coyotes skate. It’s an unbelievable experience for the kids.”
Campers took part in on-ice drills tailored for each age level, run by Johnson and Izumi, twice a day. They also were fed lunch and snacks, then did off-ice cross training activities and watched fun movies about hockey.
The younger age groups got to hang out with Howler, the iconic Coyotes mascot, and everyone got a chance to interact with the prospects.
The camp was part of the Hockey Development Program, run by Matt Shott of the Coyotes Fan Development Department. It built upon what the program works on during the season when coaches visit schools around Arizona to teach kids the fundamentals of hockey and get them involved in the game.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
“We really made sure we did what we could to make sure the kids had a great experience and will want to continue playing.” Johnson said. “If you aren’t having fun, kids won’t want to play.”
It wasn’t all just fun and games, though.
The mites (ages 8 and under) started their days with a game like freeze tag, but worked on skating, passing, and shooting drills just like the older kids. For the 8-and-over age groups, warm-up skates took place each day as well, which resulted in tangible improvements in skating abilities for all the participants – regardless of their skill level coming into the camp, which included everyone from beginners to travel players.
“With our middle group, we focused on individual skill with the puck,” Johnson said, “then our oldest group – bantam (14U) and midget (16U) – focused on offensive creativity. We stressed what players should look for when trying to create space offensively, and how to have better individual puck management in both an individual setting and a team setting.”
Combined with games like soccer, dodge ball, capture the flag, and street hockey, the participants learned about how to improve their on-ice game and how to understand that what they do off the ice affects them on the ice.
It wasn’t just an impactful experience for the campers, either.
Chychrun, selected 16th overall by the Coyotes this summer at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, reflected on what this type of school would have meant to him as a kid.
|Photo by Norm Hall. |
“It’s always special when we’re able to (skate with kids who look up to us),” he said. “When I was a kid, if that had ever happened for me, I would have been very excited… just to be able to go out there with those kids, as a player at a level they may hope to play one day.”
Strome, whom the Coyotes drafted third overall in 2015, agreed.
“Growing up in Toronto, these camps were super popular,” he said, “but whenever we got to see a professional hockey player – or even someone with a little bit of pedigree to the game – come out, it was pretty special. I always enjoyed every second of it, so getting to do it now was nice.”
Skating in all different situations – particularly backwards – was something that Chychrun was glad to see the camp emphasizing to the players. He realizes the skating drills may not have been the most fun part of the camp for the kids, but he hoped he was able to help them see how important those things are to the game.