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Improvement of Local Hockey Scene Displayed at Penguins Summer Camp

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins radio color commentator Phil Bourque has been instructing at the Penguins Summer Hockey School presented by CRONS for quite a long time – seven years, to be exact.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the camp for Bourque is seeing how the campers, who range from ages 5-17, grow and develop over the years.

“I only get to see these kids once a year,” Bourque said. “But when they start getting to be 8, 9, 10 years old and they’re gone for a year and they come back, I’m like, whoa! Is this the same kid?”

But something else that has really impressed Bourque, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh, is how much the overall skill level of the group as a whole improves each summer.

He attributes that to the continued growth of Pittsburgh’s amateur hockey system, citing this summer’s 2011 NHL Entry Draft class as an example of just how much hockey in the area has developed.

Four players who came up through the local youth hockey ranks  – J.T. Miller, John Gibson, Brandon Saad and Vince Trocheck – were selected in the first two rounds, with some of them having participated in this very camp.
“It’s a credit to the youth hockey of Pittsburgh,” Bourque said. “It’s a credit to the Pittsburgh Penguins, how they’ve gotten involved in youth hockey and making it better. As you can see with all of the kids getting drafted from this area, it goes to show you that what we’re doing is right. … It’s making the players better and NHL teams are taking notice.”

Inside the Penguins Summer Youth Hockey School
Craig Adams Summer Update
Arron Asham Summer Update
Tony Granato Summer Update
Dan Bylsma Media Scrum at RMU/Island Sports Center

Seven-time Stanley Cup champion Bryan Trottier lent his considerable expertise to this week’s camp, held Aug. 15-19 at RMU/Island Sports Center, and he feels the same way as former teammate Bourque about the local hockey scene.

Trottier really takes to heart the mission of developing hockey’s future.

“For us, working with young kids is just phenomenal,” he said. “That’s where the excitement is. That’s where the energy is. You see them growing through the levels – through squirts, bantams, peewees and midgets and eventually high school. A lot of the local kids now are being drafted at the NHL level. College is not their final stop.”

While Bourque and Trottier thoroughly enjoyed teaching this past week, the campers certainly relished learning from the talented staff assembled to work with them.

The five age groups at the camp – mites, squirts, peewees, bantams and midgets – received instruction from Bourque, Trottier, RMU head coach Derek Schooley and Penguins power skating consultant Marianne Watkins.

In addition, Penguins coaches Dan Bylsma and Tony Granato and players Arron Asham, Craig Adams and Pascal Dupuis each served as guest instructors for a day.

“I decided I did want to come to camp because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come and meet the Penguins players, the announcers and the coaches,” said Bryer Sphar, 6, from Fredericktown. “It’s just something you don’t get to do often.”

“It’s nice of them to come here and spend their time with us,” said Gavin Ross, 9, from Howard County, Maryland.

Each day, the players had skill sessions, power skating and scrimmages. It’s a format that Bourque and the others have settled on through years of experience.

While the week can become exhausting as it goes on – especially for the younger kids – Bourque said the instructors try to make it the perfect mixture of work and play.

“It’s half fun and half learning, and the fun usually comes after the learning,” Bourque said. “We noticed that a lot of kids come to this camp and they still need to refine their basic skills. … Once they learn the basics, then we advance them a little bit gradually throughout the week. But we always try to end the day with them having fun.”

After all, that’s what this game is all about.


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