While the heat of the Nashville summer blazed outside, the Ford Ice Center offered cool relief, filled with laughter and smiles, for 170 kids participating in the Nashville Predators Hockey School.
Preds alumni Stu Grimson, Chris Mason and J-P Dumont, as well as prospect Vladislav Kamenev, stopped in throughout the week, and their on-ice instruction left hockey school participants a little more excited – with their smiles getting bigger and laughter growing louder as the week progressed.
The Nashville Predators Hockey School brings in young hockey players from across the Southeast, and helps them improve their hockey skills. With two sold-out hockey camps going on, a day camp for older participants and a night camp for younger children, Ford Ice Center was filled with cheerful participants each day.
Planning for this year’s hockey school began last August, only a few weeks after the previous rendition of the hockey school came to a close; registration opened in January and quickly sold out. Predators Director of Youth Hockey and Fan Development Andee Boiman said, “I feel like it sells out earlier and earlier every year due to the demand and popularity of the sport, which is really great.”
“Years ago, hockey school used to just be the kids that skated at the facility that hosted hockey camp. Now we are seeing kids from Alabama, Memphis, Atlanta coming to hockey school,” Boiman says. “It is more than just the local Nashville kids looking for a ways to train for the summer. It’s awesome.”
For Mindy Penney and her 8-year-old son Ethan, traveling from Huntsville, Alabama, to skate in the hockey school has been on the to-do list for a couple of years.
“My son saw the kids out at Bridgestone Arena two years ago, and asked me when he could do that,” Mindy Penney said. “This is our first year at hockey school since he’s 8, but he’s been asking to come since he was 6 years old. He’s a big Preds fan; we love to come up here to go to games. This week is just fun, and he’s having a ball.”
With sessions on and off ice, there’s plenty to keep the participants busy and helping them improve their hockey skills. Each day there are three on-ice sessions and two off-ice training sessions.
“They have good drills and different things than we see at home,” Penney said.
These numerous sessions and increased ice time throughout the week allow time for improvement.
“I think with week-long camps, you just have that much repetition and that many ice touches in a condensed time, you see a ridiculous amount of progress and development,” Nashville Predators Hockey Coordinator Zach Jackson said. “Putting 12 or 14 ice touches within a week, mixing it with fun and skills, a child will progress a lot faster, especially in areas where hockey is not as traditional like Nashville.”
Throughout the week, the coaching staff has worked with the participants on a variety of skills.
“We’re just trying to hone down skills that need a little bit of fine-tuning - passing, skating, edge work, transitions and footwork. We started with stations at the beginning of the week and in the later part of the week, we’ve given them more full ice opportunities,” Jackson said. “They’ve all been working hard.”
In his third summer with hockey school, Jackson said his favorite part is when the light bulb clicks for a young skater.
“You may explain something over and over again during the week, and they may not understand, or be able to do it," he said. "However, as soon as they finally get it, and the light bulb clicks, you can see it in their eyes. They look like Bambi on ice; and that is what it is all about as a coach.”
While hockey school only happens once a year, for Boiman, “The best part is seeing year over year the families coming through. You see them throughout the year, or maybe you don’t because they skate at another facility. But each year, they always come for hockey school. They are very supportive, and we’ve started to see their younger siblings getting into the sport. That’s the fun part.”
With this being the 16th year of hockey school, some things begin to come full circle for those that have been around for most of that time.
“We now have an instructor on staff that participated in hockey school around 11 years ago,” Boiman said. “He was a high school kid at the time, starting to age out of hockey school. He left the area, has come back to the area, and now is one of our instructors on the ice. It’s really neat to see that this is a program that he still believes in, is a part of, and is now giving back to the program.”