Photo by John Russell
Predators associate coach Brent Peterson was one of several on-ice instructors at this year's Predators Hockey School.
These days, Steve Sullivan is an elite NHL forward playing hockey for the Nashville Predators. But he got his start just like most players, spending his childhood absorbing instruction at an annual hockey school.
"I went to a camp in Rouyn-Noranda, which is in the province of Quebec up in Canada," Sullivan said. "I went there from the age of probably 6 or 7 till I was probably 12 or 13. It was an all-day camp. It was a couple hours away from home so my parents used to drop me off at my aunt's house and I was back and forth to the rink on my bike. My older brother and I, we just had a blast. It was a really good experience. You just meet so many new, different people."
This summer, Sullivan was back in hockey school, this time among the famous faces that made an appearance at the Nashville Predators Hockey School held July 10-14 at the Predators practice facility inside Centennial Sportsplex. A record number of 92 boys and girls from Tennessee and eight other states were in attendance at the school, the organization's eighth annual summer ice hockey camp. Youth hockey players and goaltenders of all skill levels and ranging in ages from 6-14 received instruction from Predators coaches and guest teachers.
"Going in we had an enrollment cap of 80 kids, but we actually expanded it to 92 just because of the demand this year," said Andee Boiman, Predators amateur and youth hockey coordinator. "And we had a wait-list of over 20 kids. This year was the most successful in terms of enrollment. In years past it's only been about 60 to 70 kids."
The youngsters were split by age into two groups, then further divided by skill level. That allowed the instructors to tailor skills to each section's capabilities. On-ice instruction was conducted by Nashville Predators video coach Robert Bouchard, and guest on-ice instructors included Predators associate coach Brent Peterson, Danish National Team head coach Mike Cerant, CHL Shreveport Mudbugs goaltender Ken Carroll, and Predators 2006 NHL Draft Pick and former Nashville youth hockey player Blake Geoffrion.
"We brought Blake Geoffrion out there every day to work with the kids, and I think that really hit home with a lot of them when they realized who he was and how, a few years ago, he was out here as a participant in hockey schools just like them," Boiman said. "I think that pushed them even harder."
Geoffrion's brothers Sebastian (age 17) and Brice (15), both of whom are currently playing for Blake's alma mater, Culver Military Academy, were also on hand. "The older kids at the school saw that someone only a year older than them is out there playing and is on track to be drafted in the NHL as well," Boiman added.
According to Sullivan, who met with this year's campers during an autograph session, the connections that are made at hockey school can be long-lasting ones.
Photo by John Russell
Predators forward Steve Sullivan signs autographs for youngsters who attended the hockey school.
"It's funny--well, they don't laugh about it too much--but Pierre Turgeon and Stephane Richer, who was my first roommate in New Jersey, they were my instructors my first couple years," Sullivan recalled. "So that's kind of neat. Sebastien Bordeleau and I were best of friends during camp because we were in the same age group. His father was also a big proponent of that hockey school. So we hung out a lot during those years. You just meet so many guys that you probably would never have a chance to meet out of school. It's a great experience."
Participants tested their limits during the week as the coaches pushed them to develop their skills in a fun, learning environment. On-ice drills included hockey basics such as stops, starts, shooting, passing, and stick-handling as well as on-ice communication with teammates and skills competitions. Off-ice activities, led by Predators strength and conditioning coach David Good and assistant athletic trainer Eric Claas, concentrated on proper stretching techniques, improving quickness and agility through plyometrics and sport-specific training, and team-building.
The culmination of the week was Friday's blue-gold game--one for each of the two age groups--which allowed the students to showcase what they'd learned. "The kids who on Day 1 really couldn't skate could, by Day 5, actually participate in the game and feel like they had walked away learning some skills within a week's time. That's a tremendous accomplishment for a kid who is 6, 7, or 8 years old and on the ice for eight hours a day, being able to pay attention and pick up the skills."
The campers' family members were invited to attend Friday's game, which featured a PA announcer to formally relay penalties and scoring to the crowd. "For parents of the children who had never skated before, it was the first time they saw their kid in an organized game," Boiman noted.
Sullivan believes the age range served by the Predators school is an important one for developing players.
"I think that's where you find your niche," he said of the 6-14 age span. "You find out your personality. You find out what your skill levels are. You can always work on those things even later than that. Obviously, even as professionals we don't hit our primes until late 20s. But it's good. It's the repetition. It's getting out there and doing it often and doing in correctly. Having the instructors that they have on the ice with them, teaching them the right technique and showing them different things is really going to benefit them in their league play in the wintertime."
In addition to Sullivan, Predators players Tomas Vokoun and Jason Arnott made appearances at the school. So did Predators head coach Barry Trotz, who was in attendance at the week-capping award ceremony. All participants received a certificate of completion signed by Bouchard and Peterson and a goodie bag full of Predators promotional items. A raffle awarded to lucky youngsters autographed memorabilia like pucks, skates and gloves before the weeklong event concluded with an autograph session featuring Trotz, Peterson, Blake Geoffrion and mascot GNASH.
"This was the most successful Hockey School our organization has had to date," Boiman said. "We look forward to seeing these kids throughout the Predators hockey season and next summer."
To stay informed about next year's Nashville Predators Hockey School and future youth hockey events, be sure to sign up for the Predators Priority Emails and click on the youth hockey option. You can also visit the Play Hockey section of nashvillepredators.com for the latest news.