Nicolas Blouin felt like a little kid when stepped onto the Amalie Arena ice on Thursday.
Blouin, who participated in the Lightning Made Fantasy Camp for the first time, traveled all the way from Quebec City, Canada to experience what it’s like to be an NHL hockey player.
“A friend is living here and he did the experience last year. So he talked to me at the Florida Panthers game and told me you have to live that, so I am here,” Blouin said. “It’s awesome. Seeing those types of players that are playing with you, it’s awesome.”
For four days participants were put through the grind that both the Lightning and other NHL players experience on a daily basis. Campers hit the ice with former Lightning players such as Dave Andreychuk, Jassen Cullimore, Paul Ysebaert, Freddy Modin, Vinny Prospal and Mathieu Garon.
Fantasy Camp features an incredible opportunity for hockey players of all skill levels to come out and learn from the best. “It’s pretty much as close to an NHL caliber camp as they can experience,” said Fantasy Camp General Manager Jay Feaster. “To be able to learn from guys who have won Stanley Cups and who have played at this level, I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for the campers.”
Participants come from all over the United States and beyond to get a taste of the NHL lifestyle. The sentiments were similar for returning players as it is always a special feeling when you can take to the exact same ice as the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“When you first walk out into the big arena you’re not used to it. You’re used to playing where they have three stands and only 10 people can sit. It’s one of those big things where you come out the first time and your like ‘whoa,’” said second-year camper Ryan Ellerbe.
Ellerbe said that a large number of participants from last year’s Fantasy Camp came back this year after having such a positive experience.
“It’s neat. Everyone knows each other.”
Another returning camper, Kurt Weber said that these four days really offer a good insight into what life in the NHL is like.
“I’m used to skating a few times a week. For high school we would have one practice a week one game a week and if you are doing travel you do a little bit more, but here we are on the ice twice a day,” Weber said.
With two-a-day ice sessions and dry land training in the Bolts workout room, players get a first-hand glimpse into how hard NHL players work. Weber said that the experience gave him a whole new appreciation for the game.
“They (NHL players) are doing it for us. They’re doing it to make the fans happy and I think that’s awesome.”
Fantasy Camp is for all ages and skill levels. It is a time for hockey and Lightning fans to step out of the hallowed halls with Lightning alumni.
“It’s cool to be with Andreychuk, Cullimore, Garon, all these guys you watch play and you get to skate with them and their telling you what to do. It’s just really cool and it really makes you feel like you are part of the organization,” Ellerbe said.
Camp is all about having fun and training alongside some of the most respected players to ever lace up in the NHL.
“If you’re a hockey fan, if you enjoy being in that locker room setting with the guys and hearing the stories, if you enjoy lacing ‘em up and going out there with guys who have played at this level, it’s an experience not to be missed,” Feaster said.