The eagerly-anticipated fourth annual Rangers Youth Hockey camp got under way on Monday at the Madison Square Garden Training Center, as 106 youngsters filled halls and locker rooms that normally house the likes of Scott Gomez, Chris Drury and Henrik Lundqvist
|Rangers defenseman Marc Staal works with a youngster on Monday during the opening day of the Rangers Youth Hockey Camp at the MSG Training Center. Staal is getting his first experience as an instructor at the camp. |
Over the next two weeks, 212 boys and girls, ages 7-15, will take the ice alongside current Rangers Marc Staal
and Colton Orr, prospects Bobby Sanguinetti, Dane Byers and Ryan Hillier, as well as Blueshirts Alumni Adam Graves, Nick Fotiu and Brian Mullen.
"This is an impressionable time in these kids' lives," noted Graves, who said he gets a kick out of seeing the same campers improve from year to year. "I think the job the Rangers have done in the structure of this camp goes a long way in addition to what they get in terms of hockey. It's something kids get so much out of on a sporting level, and more importantly, on a personal level.
"To see and feel improvement even in a short week like this, it's very rewarding, not only for the kids but for the parents and the coaching staff. It's just a fantastic opportunity and experience for these kids."
Fortunately, the campers themselves relish the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to skate with and learn from their heroes. However, they also treasure the friendships and bonds forged over the five-day camps.
"It's really fun to play hockey twice a day here and meet new people," said 14-year old Alex Demeropoulos, who has attended the Rangers Youth Hockey Camp in each of its four years. "A lot of my friends say how cool it is to meet all the Rangers, and I like that too, but I've met a lot of friends here over the years. I talk to them all year long over the internet and on the computer, and I like seeing them here over the summer."
Joey Cipollone had such a blast in his first year at the camp last summer, he made sure his younger brother would join him on the ice this summer.
"This is his first time here," Cipollone said of his younger brother, "and he really likes it a lot. I told him that we would play lots of hockey and do water stuff, play lots of sports, meet lots of people and have fun. … So far we are having as much fun as I had last year."
Every camper receives a Rangers jersey, T-shirt and hockey bag, in addition to loads of other merchandise. Divided into three separate age groups, the campers enjoy two daily on-ice sessions led by the Rangers players and coaches.
Off-ice, teams and organizations such as the New York Knicks, the Newark Bears minor-league baseball team, the New York Titans professional lacrosse team and the United Spinal Rangers Sled Hockey team come in to entertain and instruct the campers.
While the youngsters get a thrill mingling with their heroes, the players get a kick out of the campers as well.
"We always get a great group of kids here, and its lots of fun" said Orr, who once again brought his nephews Rusty and Kruz down from Winnipeg to participate in the camp. "They learn so much interacting with their teammates and instructors, I feel honored to be a part of it."
Staal, who was working his first Rangers Youth Hockey Camp, said he enjoyed his experience as well.
"This is a really well-run camp," said the Rangers defenseman. "The kids are so great. They, listen and they really are having fun out there. I had a couple like this in Thunder Bay growing up, and it's always a good experience for the kids playing with professionals."
The 21- year old Staal also got a kick out of being an instructor this time rather than a camper.
"It's pretty cool being on the other side," he said with a laugh. "I remember watching what they used to do on the ice and going up to them, so it's nice to be out here and be able to do that for these kids."
The first session runs through Friday, while a second, sold-out session will take place next week. With around a 60-percent renewal rate from last year, the 2008 sessions were completely full by Jan. 1, 2008.
Pre-Registration for the 2009 Summer Hockey Camps will open in Fall 2008. Continue to check newyorkrangers.com for more information.