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Penguins Hockey School Earns High Praise From Campers

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Takeaway:

> Penguins Hockey Camp provides quality instruction to aspiring hockey stars from all over Pittsburgh and the East Coast.
> Former Penguin and radio color analyst Phil Bourque and Robert Morris Men’s Ice Hockey head coach Derek Schooley teach campers the fundamentals of the game through various puck drills.
> Parents give glowing reviews to the power-skating instruction Besa Tsintsadze and Marianne Watkins provide.
> Meet-and-greet visits with Penguins’ prospects are a hit with the campers.

A quick check of the calendar says that it is officially mid-August, but for the young hockey players gathering this week at the Robert Morris Island Sports Center it probably feels more like September because for them school is already in session – Penguins Hockey School that is.

Defenseman Deryk Engelland stopped by Penguins Hockey Camp on Wednesday to offer instruction to the campers.
Wednesday was Day 3 of the Penguins’ annual hockey school – being run this season by Penguins’ radio color commentator Phil Bourque, Robert Morris Men’s hockey head coach Derek Schooley, world-renowned power-skating instructor Besa Tsintsadze and RMU Island Sports Center director of power skating Marianne Watkins.

Once again the children in attendance, who range from mites and squirts to bantams and midgets, are receiving quality instruction while at the same time working up a good sweat and enjoying themselves while doing it. Many of the campers are returnees from past years, some coming from non-traditional places like Virginia Beach or the heart of Washington Capitals country in Columbia, Maryland.

“We looked into camps all over the East Coast,” said 14-year-old Matt Powers, a Maryland native who is attending camp with his friends Cameron Coster and Jeffrey Banaszak. “This camp looked like it was the best.”

“My wife and I grew up here, so when (my son Brett) started playing we figured we would bring him up here because we heard it was a great camp,” said Mark Winder, whose son is attending camp for the second straight year. “We have been able to turn it into a mini vacation to visit family at the same time.”

Bourque, who volunteers his services every year, thinks he knows why the Penguins Hockey School has become so popular.

“I think the first thing that keeps them coming is the Penguins’ name and what that stands for,” Bourque said. “We try to make this camp very professional and really refined so that when the kids come here we can make this one of the best experiences they have ever had. Hopefully when they leave here on Friday they are not only better hockey players, but better people.”

Camp begins each day with drill instruction from Bourque and Schooley. Bourque says the drills are kept simpler at first as the players soak in the fundamentals being taught, before progressing to higher-level techniques later in the session.

“One thing that we stress at this camp is basic skills,” Bourque said. “For some people, they may think I know how to do that stuff, but we make sure that they do before we move on to more complex drills. We also make sure to end every day with something fun. For the short time that they are here, it’s really a full day.”

Both parents and campers have been impressed by the puck skills the kids have developed throughout the course of the week.

“I think it is important to get good, quality reps from top-notch instructors – especially during the drill work at the beginning,” said David Stano, whose son, Chip, is attending camp for the fourth year.

“I really like how they teach us the fundamentals of the game,” said Calvin Buchegger, who travels from Clarksburg, Maryland each summer to stay with his grandfather, Elmer, in order to attend camp. “(On Tuesday) they worked on our passing skills. I really had problems passing, but it helps when you learn from somebody who has played at that level because they have good pointers to share with you.”

Simon Despres offers up a couple shooting tips to a group of kids at Robert Morris Island Sports Center on Wednesday.
While puck drills and end-of-day scrimmages are highly popular, the power skating instruction Tsintsadze and Watkins provide might be the biggest hit of the camp each year.

“The power skating instruction (my son Max) gets here is awesome,” Sergei George said. “This is his fourth year coming to camp and the power skating is what keeps him coming back. He loves it.”

“I think the power skating is just fantastic,” Strano added. “I think power skating is the most important element of the game, so to get if for an hour a day, five days in a row – especially from great coaches – is good stuff.”

“I am very happy that the kids and parents love the power skating,” said Tsintsadze, who works with Penguins superstar Evgeni Malkin during the summer. “I really enjoying teaching them. Power skating is very important in today’s game. It’s all about speed and being confident in your skating on the ice.”

Finally, in between all the power skating and drill work, the campers are fortunate enough to have some of the Penguins’ top prospects stop by for on-ice instruction and an off-ice meet-and-greet during lunch. Wednesday’s guests were forward Eric Tangradi in the morning and defensemen Deryk Engelland and Simon Despres in the afternoon.

“Having the prospects here is really good for the young kids because they can relate to them,” Bourque said. “The prospects are still trying to find their way into the NHL. It wasn’t that long ago that they were sitting at hockey camps like this hoping to talk to a future NHLer. The kids are asking some really insightful questions that hopefully down the road will help them become a successful hockey player.”

“I think (Brett) enjoys getting to hear some of the prospects talk about when they were growing up playing the game,” Winder said. “I think that really helps him know what the sport is really all about. We don’t have that atmosphere (in Virginia Beach) without a professional team.”

“It’s been really helpful to have the players come because we have been able to hear what it was like when they were playing as kids and how they train,” Banaszak said. “Hopefully someday I can join them in the pros.”

“It’s a lot of fun to come out here,” Engelland said. “No matter where you are you love to come to camps like this and help these young kids out.”

That’s the theme of hockey camps such as the one the Penguins are currently providing – help make kids better hockey players while having a great time doing it. Sounds like the type of “summer school” any aspiring future Penguins star would want!


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