The Nashville Predators organization has always been recognized for its grassroots hockey initiatives, most notably a series of clinics and camps intended to fuel the growth of local youth ice hockey players. As Middle Tennessee’s hockey culture has developed, so too have the Predators’ instructional offerings, from the team’s free Get Out and Learn! (G.O.A.L!) program for beginners, to the Preds and Little Preds hockey schools, to the organization’s support for youth travel and high school hockey teams. Now Nashville also has a pair of elite level camps with Predators ties, for players looking to advance to the Major Junior and NCAA ranks.
“The Predators organization has worked hard to spur the development of local youth hockey community by expanding our educational programs—not only the number of programs but the level of instruction offered by those programs,” says Andee Boiman, Predators’ Director of Youth Marketing and Fan Development. “In the early days of the Predators Hockey School, for example, attendees of the weeklong summer camp seemed mostly interested in fan experiences like photo ops with special guests. Today the camp is built around a first-class educational format presented by a number of certified instructors. This community’s progress has required that.”
The increased demand for youth hockey programs has led the Predators to extend G.O.A.L!—the free four-session clinic designed for boys and girls ages 5 to 8—into the summer months and to double-up the program with sessions scheduled for both A-Game in Franklin and Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville during the same months. This summer the Preds will even offer a G.O.A.L! program for roller hockey, as local youth hockey programs extend beyond indoor ice rinks to outdoor roller hockey and street hockey setups.
The summer Hockey School, which sells out every year, continues to be one of the Predators’ most popular development programs. What was once a single co-ed camp for ages 8 to 14 has grown to include two Little Preds camps for ages 5 to 8 at A-Game and Centennial Sportsplex. These Little Preds schools, now in their fourth year, are the next step for graduates of G.O.A.L! The five-session event offers a great value at $125, with 75 minutes of ice time at each session. (As of early June, a limited number of spots were still open for the Little Preds camp in Franklin, July 16-20. The Nashville session is sold out but interested parties are encouraged to join the wait list.)
The Little Preds camps ultimately lead to the original Preds Hockey School designed for players ages 8 to 14. (It’s already sold out, but there is a wait list.) This week-long event offers an increased challenge at an age range when players need it: Attendees hit the ice three times a day during the camp, work with a strength coach and participate in off-ice exercises. Direction comes from qualified area instructors who regularly teach youth hockey players, and members of the Predators organization typically make appearances to address the group.
For Boiman, even the manner in which attendees enrolled tells a positive story about Nashville’s youth hockey culture. “It’s a good sign that the 11- to 14-year-old slots sold out first for this year’s Preds Hockey School,” Boiman says. “It shows that players in the Nashville area are staying with the sport at an age when kids are often pulled away by other opportunities.”
For those players looking to propel themselves into the upper echelon of amateur hockey and beyond, Preds Assistant Coach Mitch Korn runs a camp in early June each year geared toward goaltenders and defensemen, while Manager of Hockey Operations Brandon Walker, organizes Elite Edge Hockey Showcase, an instructional camp that allows more advanced youth players the opportunity to work extensively with professional and collegiate coaches. Elite Edge alumni include 2011 NHL first-round draft pick Tyler Biggs as well as 2012 USA Hockey National Camp invitees Aaron O’Neill, Zach Zalar and Michael Curtis. Likewise, Coach Korn has developed some of the best goaltenders to play in the NHL, including future Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek and current Preds star Pekka Rinne.
So no matter where a young Middle Tennessean is in his or her development, from having never skated to being a recruited talent, the Nashville Predators and their staff members have assembled a network of instruction designed to accelerate player development and stimulate the hockey culture that continues to see rapid growth in and around Nashville.