Skating from blue-line to blue-line, 10 kids between the age of six and 13 prepared for their afternoon session of hockey camp at Iceworks in Syosset on Tuesday, June 29. Laughter echoed throughout the building as the young players anticipated meeting Islanders’ teammates Josh Bailey
and Andrew MacDonald
“When the kids get to meet the Islanders, it’s incredible. They are so excited to be able to interact with the players and have the players give them tips,” Coach Vinny Messina, co-director of Hockey at Iceworks said.
Although the kids were excited to meet the players and skate alongside them, they were just as eager to learn what it takes to become a pro. Meanwhile, MacDonald and Bailey reminisced about their childhood and what this type of experience would have meant to them when they were growing up.
“Just look how excited they get. They are always smiling ear to ear. Their eyes are always right on us, listening to any advice we can give them,” Bailey said. “Any kid reminds me of, well obviously I’m still young, but reminds me of when I was younger and how excited I would have been if someone came out on the ice with me.”
Islanders' defenseman Andrew MacDonald
had a similar thought.
“It’s nice to see smiles on their faces when we get on the ice and they get a excited. I just think its cool for them,” MacDonald said. “I know when I was this age if I ever met a player playing in the National Hockey League I would have been ecstatic. I just try to have fun with them and make sure they are enjoying themselves.”
Without question, the skaters definitely enjoyed themselves. Before playing a game, the campers practiced receiving passes from MacDonald and Bailey and shooting on net.
Coach Messina explained that repetition and focusing on a few skills at a time, like passing and shooting, helps the campers improve. After practicing a skill, the campers are asked to apply what they’ve learned in a game because practicing the same skill reinforces good habits.
“The improvement that you can make in one week when you can apply those same fundamental skills everyday, is immense. The Iceworks camp is about consistency, a lot of ice and a constant interaction with coaches,that in the end will benefit each players' game” said Messina.
Once they got that down, the campers began their three-on-three game of give-and-go ball. Played with W-shaped hockey nets and a liquid-filled ball that reduces the bounce on the ice, give-and-go ball teaches the campers the importance of passing because the campers could only shoot on net if they passed the puck to MacDonald or Bailey first.
Iceworks Hockey Camp has been extremely successful. Coach Messina and Mike Lang love hockey, the kids, and most of all – they love coaching.
“We have been here at Iceworks for 17 years,” Messina said. “We are camp people. We love to teach this great sport.”
Parents can sign their children up for one of two options: the full or half-day. The full-day consists of five and a half hours of ice time, while the half-day is two and a half. On a normal hockey team, kids have one-hour practices once or twice each week. By attending the week-long camp at Iceworks, a skater has a better opportunity to improve.
“The full-day or half-day camp always has a power skating segment, puck handling segment and a scrimmage,” Messina said. “Mixed in are a lot of camp games that the kids are not exposed to in any other type of clinic. They are learning skills, having fun, and being competitive. At the same time, they are learning and having fun. Whether it’s an off-ice chalk talk, off-ice game or on-ice game – it’s all hockey pretty much all of the time.”
Consistency is extremely important, but so is having fun. As both Islanders thought about their youth, Bailey & MacDonald offered some advice for the kids who hope to someday be professional hockey players.
Bailey’s advice was about balance. He said, “I think just hard work. You have to love the game obviously and everything needs to be fun still, but hard work is going to take you far in hockey.”
MacDonald was all about having fun. “Make sure you work hard and pay attention to what the Coaches are trying to teach you,” MacDonald said, “but the most important thing is to have fun.”
Most of all, spending the afternoon with the young skaters was important to the pros.
“We know that we are helping them become better,” MacDonald said. “It’s nice to see that they are excited for us to be on the ice with them and we are really eager to go out there and help the kids. We were in their ‘skates’ at one point so it’s always great to give back.”