Making the jump from amateur to professional hockey is about so much more than on-ice ability.
That means the 28 young men in attendance at the Penguins’ annual prospect development camp, which kicks off bright and early Tuesday morning at CONSOL Energy Center, better get their pencils and notebooks ready – because they’re about to learn what it means to be a Pittsburgh Penguin in every sense of the word.
|Joe Morrow will be attending his first development camp after being taken 23rd overall by the Penguins in June's NHL Entry Draft. (Getty Images) |
“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,” said Penguins assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald, one of the camp’s instructors.
“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.”
The prospects in attendance have quite an eventful week ahead of them at camp, which goes through Saturday and will be run by Fitzgerald, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes, WBS assistant coach Alain Nasreddine, Penguins goaltending coach Gilles Meloche, Penguins player development coach Bill Guerin, Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar and WBS strength and conditioning coach Joe Lorincz.
In addition to on-ice practices, off-ice workouts, a Saturday scrimmage and team-bonding experiences like a bowling tournament and group dinners, they’ll be receiving education in media training, NHL security, nutrition and sports psychology.
They’ll even be taking a cooking class to give them options outside of dialing the number of the nearest pizza delivery place when they no longer live with Mom and Dad.
“When 20- or 21-year-old kids enter the league they know how to play hockey,” Fitzgerald explained. “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.”
Prospect development camps are standard practice in the National Hockey League these days, but it wasn’t always that way.
When guys like Fitzgerald, head coach Dan Bylsma and assistant coach Todd Reirden were preparing to make the jump to professional hockey, camps like these weren’t available to them. Instead, they had to figure it out on their own.
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. - Penguins assistant to the GM Tom Fitzgerald
And while they eventually learned what it took to make it at this level, there’s so many invaluable resources currently available to set these young men up for long-term success that it would be silly not to take advantage of them.
In fact, Fitzgerald believes that the various training seminars and team-bonding experiences the players will participate in off the ice this week will be the most beneficial to them.
“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.”
It may seem like a whole lot of information crammed into a six-day period, and well, that’s because it is. But no one ever said it was easy.
“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.”