Campers wrapped the Skills Session Tuesday. One camper, Justin Fleury (no relation to New York Rangers star Theo), made the jump to the Elite session at the tender age of six.
“Theo - as we like to call him because he’s the smallest one out there - he’s about as cute as they come,” said Hurricanes Fan Development Manager Brian Mehm. “He’s a real hard worker. He started out at the last camp in the skills session – he’s only been playing for a little while. All of the counselors like him. He’s a really nice kid and always smiling.
“Actually, he brought his girlfriend. She surprised him at camp today. We had her hidden in the locker room and he came in to change his uniform and there she was. It was like magic in a hockey locker room – as magical as it can get.”
Fleury is a second-year camper who made quite an impression on power-skating instructor Sandy Velenosi.
"Justin, in the past six days in this camp has improved from a beginner to an experienced skater," said Velenosi. "I like to call him 'Mini-me.' He has improved so much in that he has so much foot-speed, so much balance and control, not only with his skating, but he's able to move the puck as well."
As for Fleury, there was no doubt about his favorite part of this year's camp.
"Playing Irish Bulldog," said Fleury. "There are sharks in the middle and the kids try to go out and not get caught in between the blue lines."
After the kids, Hurricanes Television Color Analyst Tripp Tracy takes center stage at the hockey school. Tracy backstopped the Harvard Crimson from 1992 to 1996 and spent time in the Carolina system before trading in his skates for a microphone.
“Tripp and being able to have camp at the ESA have been the best two additions since we’ve started,” said Mehm. “He’s got, as everyone knows, the best personality. He relates well with the kids and parents and knows the game better than anyone in the area, period. He’s been working real hard this week, not only with the goalies but with all of the players. He’s on the ice eight-to-nine hours a day and keeps the energy level up which is important for the kids. They tend to drift during the day and Tripp - you never see Tripp drift. He’s been just awesome and I can’t wait to have camp five years down the road and have it be his fifth or sixth year with the camp and have a lot of the kids get to know him real well. He’s been great.”
There's no denying Tracy's enthusiasm about the camp and the game of hockey. On Tuesday, Tracy coached his red squad to a 7-5 victory against the black squad. Tracy showed encouragement to his players from the bench and made his presence known to the official when he disagreed with a call.
"This is a great, great experience," said Tracy. "After working with these kids for four days – it's fun to see them get to experience playing in an NHL arena with all of these bells and whistles: the scoreboard, the PA announcer and everything that goes along with it. It really turned out to be a great experience for everyone."
During Tuesday's game, Hurricanes left winger Bates Battaglia made a guest appearance at Tracy's side, behind the red bench. But, by the middle of period two, Battaglia had moved behind the black team's bench and head-to-head with his friend and former Beast of New Haven teammate, Tracy.
"I think the nature of Bates' and my friendship is that we like to go at one another," said Tracy with a twinge of his sarcastic wit. "If he wants to go over to the team that, albeit they're all winners, but they're going to come up on the lesser end of the scoreboard on this day, that's his choice. It's a free world."
After a moment of thought and another goal by his red squad Tracy re-thought his comment on Battaglia's decision to join the black squad.
"That kid's always had a screw loose and we just can't seem to find a tool to remedy the situation," said Tracy. "It's really becoming a problem."
Hurricanes defenseman Glen Wesley paid visit to the Elite camp Thursday.
"It's been amazing to watch the transformation of all of the kids and neighborhoods to roller hockey and street hockey and taking that next step to ice hockey," said Wesley. "I think that when we get more and more rinks here in North Carolina it's going to do great. It's fun to be able to watch my kid and other kids I know from the neighborhood enjoying the sport."
Carolina coach Paul Maurice also visited the school and took time to talk and skate with the players.
"Hopefully they've had a lot of fun," said Maurice. "That's the bottom line for all of this. The one common denominator, whether you're working a hockey school in Canada or here in the south, it's the fun-factor. I especially enjoy the smallest group of kids and I think they just have a great time on the ice."
This is the third summer for the Canes Summer Hockey School. Mehm has seen many changes during that span including a doubling in the school's attendance.
“Our first year we had 63 kids," said Mehm. "We went to 100 the next year and we’re at 128 this year so, the numbers have grown significantly. There’s also more recognition between the kids and the players. They know the players by sight. They can recognize them without their uniforms on. They are a lot more excited about autographs and skating with the coaches and players. It used to be that we had to tell them who they were and what position they played and talk them into thinking the guy was famous and now they know that they are.
“There’s also a lot more younger kids. Our first two years we had a lot of older kids – over the age of 12. We’ve got probably 70 percent of our kids are under the age of 11 or 10 years old now. That’s an encouraging sign that the base is getting younger.”
Carolina Hurricanes Website Reporter Kyle S. Hanlin can be reached at email@example.com.