Dmitri Williams doesn't list Scott Hartnell as one of his favorite hockey players, but the longtime NHL forward ranks among his favorite people.
Dmitri, 14, is among 40 children who will attend Minnesota Hockey Camps beginning Saturday through July 21, with their expenses paid for by Hartnell via his HartnellDown Foundation.
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It's the second straight summer that Dmitri, who lives in Hilliard, Ohio and plays for Columbus Ice Hockey Club (CIHC), a Hockey Is For Everyone program, will attend the camp through the HartnellDown Foundation. Hockey Is For Everyone is an NHL initiative that uses hockey and the League's global influence to drive positive change and foster more inclusive communities.
"To meet someone of that stature, and for him to send us to somewhere like this, 100 percent free, that just shows how much of a heart that man has and how much he really cares for us," Dmitri said. "He wants us to get better."
Hartnell, 36, played for the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2014-17. The 17-year NHL veteran spent last season with the Nashville Predators and is an unrestricted free agent.
Dmitri named defensemen Seth Jones of the Blue Jackets and P.K. Subban of the Predators among his favorite players, but one he tries to pattern his game after is forward Brian Gibbons, who had 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 59 games with the New Jersey Devils last season and signed a one-year contract with the Anaheim Ducks on July 2.
"He's very small (5-foot-8, 175 pounds) but he had a great season this year and I really like how he plays," Williams said. "His playing style and how small he is, and what he does on the ice are like what the 6-4, 6-5 guys do. He's got this grinder mentality where he's not scared to go into the corners and dig the puck out and then go and make nice dekes and score.
"I'm a little bit smaller [for my age] but [playing along the boards] is my favorite part."
After his trip to the camp last year, his mother, Colleen, said she saw major growth in Dmitri, who is entering his sixth season at CIHC.
"From going to camp and being part of their program … he's a newer player, he started a little later than most of the kids," she said. "To see him blossom from last year to this year, he's learned so many skills. His skating has gotten better, he's understanding the game more, he's gotten smarter and stronger with the game."
Dmitri is not the only player to benefit from opportunities like this. Amani Dao, 10, is one of three kids from the Ice Hockey in Harlem program in New York who will attend the camp on scholarships from the HartnellDown Foundation.
Amani, who lives in Bronx, New York, is in her seventh season with Ice Hockey in Harlem, and her mother, Zainabu Sesay-Harrell, said she has seen her grow off the ice as much as on the ice.
"She's become more responsible," Sesay-Harrell said. "She's become much more mature and confident. I'm excited. I'm happy for her that she gets these kinds of opportunities, especially being a young girl of color. She's probably the only girl in her neighborhood who gets to do something this."
Camp activities include on- and off-ice work, such as weight training and yoga, and fun nonhockey activities like an ice cream social.
There also are the long-lasting friendships that can be made. Dmitri said he'll be spending time with friends from New York and Philadelphia he has met through hockey, including his coach from last year's camp, who was in touch with him all year.
"I can call him a friend now, Coach Brian," Dmitri said. "He's in college now. … Being with the CIHC and organizations like this, these are friends I can have for the rest of my life."