Pat Boller is still feeling the impact of some advice former Rangers defenseman Ron Greschner gave him when Boller attended Greschner's hockey camp as a kid.
"He told me to take wrist shots instead of slap shots," Boller, now the Assistant General Manager for the Hartford Wolf Pack, said. "That's still burned in my mind. I still remember that."
Years after that experience, Boller - at the time a coaching assistant with the Rangers - helped create the Rangers' Youth Hockey Camp, and in the 14 years since, countless others have had a similar experience to Boller from players they look up to today.
"We started off the first year with two weeks," Boller said of that summer in 2005. "We did lots of different stuff. We wanted to have a camp where kids can come and experience life at the MSG Training Center. We gave them name plates and pads, and we had former players come in, coaches from Hartford came to help coach. It was one of those things that we thought we should be doing."
One of the former players was Rangers legend Adam Graves, who became the de facto head alumnus at the camp, thanks in large part to his role in the community, including at the organization's external hockey clinics that began around that time.
"When we did the camp, we said let's have Gravey come in," said Boller. "He'd come in and Gravey being who he is, was involved in everything. Basically, any ideas we had for the camp, we'd bounce them off of him."
The focus of the camp was of course on hockey, but that wasn't all. Campers would spend time in the classroom and even had interactions with nutritionists on the importance of eating well.
In fact, many sports, from baseball to lacrosse, were played at the training center, and still are today.
"I always felt it was important for the kids to play multiple sports," Boller said. "The thing with hockey - and often all travel sports - is that kids focus only on the one sport. They say I'm going to be a baseball player and nothing else.
"I really believe in being a proponent of multi-sport athletes," Boller continued. "It's a good way to branch out and meet different kids and different athletes. I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce the campers to different sports."
Another sport was sled hockey, and it's one that's left a lasting impact on Boller all these years later.
"It was about life lessons," Boller said of introducing sled hockey into the curriculum. "It's about dealing with adversity and learning how to handle it. That was something I always looked forward to. Seeing how the kids interacted and learned from someone outside their world. It was always a good life lesson for them. It was also nice to see those guys come out and be part of it as well."
In the near decade and a half since the first year of camp, the program has exploded in popularity. Last year, the Rangers hosted more than 350 campers, and this year that number is expected to grow to more than 400. As the camp has expanded, so too has the coaching staff, so the players still get personalized attention throughout the week, as well as visits from current and former Rangers.
That popularity has led to the program expanding to satellite locations in August at Long Beach Arena, Floyd Hall Arena and Protec Ponds.
"The fact that now we're having satellite camps in different rinks is amazing," Boller said. "The length of weeks and the number of enrollments - we just keep going up."
Boller is still part of camp today, and he's had the pleasure of watching many young campers - from all over the globe - grow into young adults who still come back and assist during the four-week program.
"That's what it's all about," he said. "You want them to be a better hockey player, but you also want them to have experiences that stay with them the rest of their lives."
Don't miss out on this memorable experience. Click to register for camp.