The Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins will hold their annual prospect conditioning camp this week. Prospects throughout the organization arrived Monday, including Eric Tangradi
, Brain Strait, Dustin Jeffrey
, Luca Caputi and 2009 first-round pick Simon Despres
, and will take part in meetings, seminars, on-ice practice sessions, off-ice team building exercises and a few enjoyable non-hockey related events.
“We’re really excited about this year’s camp,” said Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Todd Reirden, one of the organizers of the camp. “It’s something we’ve had a lot of success with in the past and continue to build on the things that were good and continue finding new ways to improve our prospects and develop them for life as a professional hockey player.”
The camp provides many benefits to the organization, management and coaches. It gives them a chance to see their prospects on the ice and get to know them off the ice. But the individuals that benefit most from the experience will be the players.
“We think it’s important for a number of reasons,” Reirden said. “We get a chance to put our young players, future stars of the Pittsburgh Penguins, into a situation where they can initially develop a bond and a relationship with each other at the learning stages of their careers.
“The majority of these guys will be joining me for the rookie camp. So this way I get an opportunity to introduce stuff to the new guys and get it in their brains. Then at rookie camp we’ll have a better chance of having everyone on the same page when we get to that point in September. Hopefully, that will give us a better opportunity for success then.”
For Reirden, who will be attending the conditioning camp for the first time, it’s a chance to meet the organizations prospects, many of whom will likely be passing through Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“I’m looking forward to meeting (the prospects) and learning what they’re all about,” Reirden said. “Not just on the ice but also off the ice, starting to develop that bond and familiarity with myself as well because they are guys that are going to spend some time with me at some point before arriving here at Pittsburgh. It’s a great situation. I’m really looking forward to meeting all the new guys and other guys that I haven’t had a chance to see.”
In the on-ice sessions, the players will learn the Penguins’ system, which is employed in Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh, and run through drills at Southpointe. The practices are open to the public and will be held Tuesday at 4 p.m., Wednesday at 2:45 p.m., Friday at 2:30 p.m. and Saturday at 2:55 p.m. The players will be evaluated and tested on their various abilities, such as skating, puck skills, etc.
Off the ice, the prospects will undergo a fitness test and have meetings and seminars with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar, where they will learn proper nutrition and conditioning techniques.
Also, the team will have various fun activities to clear their mind from hockey, such as attending a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game and competing in a scavenger hunt and paintball.
As an added incentive, the players will be competing against each other in every event during the week. They’ll compete in the fitness testing and on-ice drills, as well as in trivia, the scavenger hunt and paintball.
“It’s a week long competition, including all the events along the way,” Reirden said. “We’ll have a competitive atmosphere but yet a fun situation for young guys to grow as professional athletes.”
And the teams will be rotated throughout the week to ensure that every player gets to meet each other, as well as compete with and against each other.
“At the end of the week they’ll have had a chance to spend time with every guy that is here,” Reirden said. “That was a huge priority for me and (assistant to the general manager) Tom Fitzgerald. Our whole organization wants to get these guys to feel like they’re one and welcome as part of the family.”
Fitzgerald, who has taken on the new role of assistant to the general manager, worked closely with Reirden in organizing the week.
“Tom Fitzgerald does a phenomenal job with the development of our players,” Reirden said. “He’s a valuable asset for our organization. We spent a lot of time putting it together and setting up a good week for the guys.”
Players scheduled to attend the camp include forwards Trangradi, Caputi, Jeffrey, Joey Haddad, Nick Johnson, Nathan Longpre, Nathan Moon, Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Zack Sill, Keven Veilleux
and Joe Vitale
; defensemen Strait, Robert Bortuzzo
, Lane Caffaro, Nicholas D’Agostino, Jonathan D’Aversa, Alex Grant
, Carl Sneep
and Denny Urban; and goaltenders Patrick Killeen
and Brad Thiessen
Despres, a defenseman who was the Penguins’ first-round pick (30th overall), leads the members of the 2009 draft class who are scheduled to attend. Also at the camp will be Ben Hanowski
(Round 3, 63rd overall), Nicholas Petersen (Round 4, 121st overall), Alex Velischek
(Round 5, 123rd overall) and Andy Bathgate (Round 5, 151st overall).
”I’m really looking forward to going through this whole thing,” Reirden said. “Within that learning process on the ice we’ll go over how we want to play systematically, utilizing drills that we use in Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh. Off the ice, they’ll be doing a number of things with Mike Kadar to prepare them for the commitment they have to make off the ice, which is a huge part of them getting to the National Hockey League. We’ll couple those things with some off-ice events that help build important qualities for young people, such as leadership, working together, team work, goal setting and having some fun along the way.”