Prior to hitting the ice, youth hockey players from across the Pittsburgh region gathered in a meeting room at Island Sports Center on Neville Island Thursday afternoon. The group, which was participating in the Penguins’ sold out Summer Hockey School, was greeted by a special guest speaker.
A roomful of smiles and giggles erupted as head coach of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins Dan Bylsma entered the room.
Bylsma started the day with the meeting, in which he taught the importance of skills and character. After Bylsma took the ice and work with the kids on various skills, technique and conditioning.
|Coach Dan Bylsma and Phil Bourque address youth hockey players |
Bylsma even offered $100 dollars to any player that could pass the puck perfectly on every occasion during the drills (sadly no one won).
“There are so many reasons this is a valuable thing for me personally, for the kids, for the community, for the Penguins,” Bylsma said. “Youth sports is a great way to teach kids life lessons. It’s a great way to motivate kids and teach them how to win, lose, work hard and learn sportsmanship. That’s why having a camp like this, to not only teach hockey skills but to teach life lessons, is a great way to reinforce things that are important for them growing up.”
The camp, which runs Monday through Friday, is designated for youth hockey participants (ages 5-17) to work in on-ice skills sessions, power skating sessions, conditioning and scrimmages. The kids receive over 12 hours of one-ice sessions from Penguins assistant coach Mike Yeo, two-time Stanley Cup champion and Penguins radio analyst Phil Bourque and world-renown power skating specialist Besa Tsintsadze.
“We started this camp in 2001 and it’s our ninth year,” Penguins Director of Amateur Hockey Mark Shuttleworth said. “This is a pure skills camp. It’s a traditional hockey skills school. We emphasize shooting, passing, stick handling and power skating.
“At the end we scrimmage because the kids like it. It’s fun and you can gage how much they’ve progressed with the skills that they’ve learned throughout the week. Kids work hard for the week to get ready for the upcoming season. That’s why I think it’s so popular. It sells out almost every year.”
But before the on-ice sessions began, Bylsma spoke to the youths. He taught the players that the three most important things to learn in hockey are, in order: skating, passing and puck handling. According to Bylsma, shooting is way down on the list.
Bylsma also said that character is as important in a player as their talent. He said to really be successful in hockey you need a strong work ethic, you must want to be better and you need a good attitude.
After, Bylsma answered questions from the kids as a roomful of hands sprung up with eager curiosities.
For me personally, hockey and amateur sports was a big part of my growing up and I think it’s terribly important that that’s a part of what we do. We have a great opportunity as athletes and coaches, being synonymous with the Pittsburgh Penguins, to give back, to give the same experience to the kids that play hockey as we had when we grew up. - Dan Bylsma
Some of the better questions were: Who has the Cup now? (I don’t know); Who’s better Sidney Crosby
or Alex Ovechkin? (Crosby because he’s a better all-around player); How did it feel to win the Cup? (Better than I thought it would be. Your whole career flashes before your eyes when you raise it); Why did the team start winning when you took over? (You shouldn’t be asking such serious questions); Do you like Mario Lemieux or Crosby better? (Mario is my boss so I’m going to say Mario).
The sold out camp is yet another example of the thriving interest in hockey in the Pittsburgh area, something that Bylsma and the 2009 Stanley Cup champion Penguins have helped to create.
“You’ve seen bursts in hockey in the Pittsburgh area at different times,” Bylsma said. “You saw it when Mario won the Cups then and you’re seeing it with our star players now with Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
and the Cup adds to that. The excitement and interest in hockey translates to kids coming out and taking part.”
And for Bylsma, who remembers attending camps as a youngster, the camp is a chance to give back to the kids, the community and the sport he loves.
“For me personally, hockey and amateur sports was a big part of my growing up and I think it’s terribly important that that’s a part of what we do,” Bylsma said. “We have a great opportunity as athletes and coaches, being synonymous with the Pittsburgh Penguins, to give back, to give the same experience to the kids that play hockey as we had when we grew up. To do it here, adding to this community is an important part of what we do with the Pittsburgh Penguins. There are lots of good reasons to be here today. It also gives me a chance to get on the ice and have some fun.”