The calendar says early July as temperatures in the Pittsburgh region hover well into the upper 90s, and that can only mean one thing – it’s time for a hockey.
|Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo is one of several Penguins prospects scheduled to participate in this week's development camp. Credit - Getty Images |
No, it’s not time for training camp to begin quite yet, but the Penguins will get a jump start on the 2010-11 regular season as they hold the team’s annual development camp July 12-17 at Mellon Arena and the Iceoplex at Southpointe.
This year’s camp will be run by Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald, goaltending coach Gilles Meloche, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Todd Reirden and WBS assistant coach John Hynes.
Unlike training camp, when players are battling for roster spots and getting prepared for the upcoming season, development camp is a chance for the top prospects and recent draft picks within the organization to spend a week in Pittsburgh learning all of the on- and off-ice aspects that come with being a professional in a more relaxed setting.
“The whole idea of setting this camp up is to develop the habits and the mindset of a pro hockey player and what is expected from a pro hockey player in our organization,” Fitzgerald said. “We also get to see our draft picks with the Pittsburgh Penguins uniform on. It gives them that sense of family.
“This allows us to look at these guys together. We also get to show them what the city of Pittsburgh is all about. And finally, we get to educate these guys on what is expected by having media training, a nutritionist, a sports psychologist and NHL security.”
While the players will spend four of the days on the ice at Southpointe partaking in practices which are open to the public, Fitzgerald believes all of the various training seminars and team-bonding experiences the players will participate in off the ice will be the most beneficial.
“When 20- or 21-year-old kids enter the league they know how to play hockey,” Fitzgerald said. “The hockey aspect takes care of itself. It’s the other stuff that we put a lot of value on. A big part of hockey is the mental side – that’s why we have professionals who come in, work with these guys and give them answers to things that might come up.”
Fitzgerald said camps such as these weren’t available to players back when guys like he, Reirden and Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma were preparing to make the jump from amateur to professional hockey. While Fitzgerald said he eventually learned what it took to become a professional, he said taking this week to educate young players before they turn pro is simply taking advantage of the invaluable resources that are available today and better sets the players up for long-term success.
“That is such a huge element that goes into being a professional,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s something that Todd, Dan and I were taught through experience. Maybe by saying something we shouldn’t have said to the media without someone saying you can’t say that. That was our experience, but we said let’s try to educate these kids prior. You learn by your experiences, but if you can give them a heads up on certain things maybe they won’t make those same kinds of mistakes.”
Another important aspect of development camp is the chance it gives players who will one day be calling each other teammates to get together for a week, learn a little bit about each other and experience the culture which has made the Penguins one of the league’s most-successful franchises over the last five years. This is done through off-ice dinners and activities such as bowling and paintball throughout the week.
“We show these guys the way that we build our foundation,” Fitzgerald said. “With that foundation come expectations for everybody within the organization. You set your goals and your expectations high. Winners have higher expectations – winning Stanley Cups. We have done that and we want to continue to do that.”
Forward Dustin Jeffrey
, who will be attending his fourth development camp, says getting to meet the other young players within the organization is the best part of the camp.
“I think that’s the biggest thing about these camps – it builds that family-type attitude,” Jeffrey said. “You get to be introduced to everybody in the organization. It’s more of an introductory camp that let’s everybody get together and learn about each other.”
Finally, development camp gives Penguins management a chance to evaluate where all of the prospects are from a physical standpoint thanks to fitness tests they will undergo at the UMPC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side. Those who meet expectation levels are commended, while those who don’t are given a program to follow so they can be ready when the main camp begins in September.
“When we have our physical testing we can see who is serious and has put the time in the gym from the end of the season to testing day on July 13,” Fitzgerald said. “As far as the junior kids who will be back for rookie camp in September, this is where you are at. If you are where we think you need to be – that’s great. If you are not, you have two months to get going.”