The first of two week-long sessions of the Rangers' second annual Youth Hockey Camp, presented by CherryPharm, got under way this week at the Madison Square Garden Training Center in Tarrytown, N.Y. The camp, open to kids ages 7-15, enables youngsters to develop on-ice skills and learn off-ice training from current and former Rangers players as well as members of the team's coaching staff.
Held at the Rangers' own practice facility, the camp exposes participants to a pro-level environment and features all of the amenities available to NHL players. It's a formula that has gone over well with both campers and their families. One testament to the camp's early success is the number of campers returning from last season.
Divided into age groups of 7-10 year olds and 11-15 year olds, each week's group of 75 to 100 campers alternate on-ice sessions with educational classes and other activities. In addition to hockey, campers compete in a variety of games such as soccer, basketball, and European handball amongst others.
A big highlight for campers is the opportunity to skate on the same ice surface where Rangers legends like Mark Messier and Mike Richter once practiced as they get to skate alongside their current-day Blueshirt heroes. This year's special guests include Darius Kasparaitis, Colton Orr, and Adam Graves.
Skating with these real NHL stars is an experience the 150 campers will never forget. Orr himself remembers what camps were like when he was a kid, and he gets a kick out of being the instructor this time around.
"The camps I went to when I was younger were nothing like this," said Orr. "Mine were outdoors all the time. It was freezing up in Canada. I couldn't imagine being in a rink like this when I was that age -- to be in an NHL facility. I still can't believe it. It's a dream come true playing here. For the kids to come here and see that, it's really great. It's a thrill to get out there for the kids. I remember when I was a kid what it was like to see a pro athlete so I am going out there and enjoying it, and I think they are really learning here."
Kasparaitis spent part of the day on Monday clowning around with the campers. But while he was having a great time, he was also constantly teaching and instructing them. At one point, he sprinted full speed down to the other end of the ice shouting, " Don't just stand around. Skate! Skate! Skate!"
Without a doubt, the highlight for these campers is getting to spend personal time with their heroes.
"I got to be on the ice with Kasparaitis!" exclaimed a 10-year-old boy who was among the many campers returning from 2005. "To be on the ice with him is like being on the ice with an amazing person. Someone who you have not known for a long time, but you think is a real good person. And in Kasparaitis, he is also a great player."
Another returnee, age 8, couldn't agree more.
"I think Kasparaitis, since I've been with him, he's a great coach!" the boy said. "He really has the skills to do it and he can demonstrate very easily!"
While half the campers were on the ice Monday, the others attended a class given by Rangers legend Adam Graves. Sitting in the same seats that Rangers players use during the season, the kids learn about the importance of preparation and hard work. Graves also gave them a bit of a history lesson - explaining that when they wear the Blueshirts insignia, they are members of an Original Six team.
"You are a part of the Rangers organization now," Graves told the campers. "You wear that emblem on your shirts and you represent them. When you go out, wear it with pride. Wherever you go, you are now associated with that crest.
"Sports is all about passion, and in this case, to be able to find something in hockey to make you a better person across the board. We want to instruct and instill the proper discipline in order to make you a more successful person, measuring success in your character, as a citizen, your manners, and how you treat others."
Graves described the camp as "very disciplined but in the sense that the campers are always having a smile on their face."
Adam Graves and Colton Orr are among the instructors working at the Rangers' youth camp.
"That's what we want to teach them always to have," said Graves. "We want to instill manners, work ethic, and dedication, and at the end of the day, we want them to go home to mom and dad with a smile on their face. We have an excellent staff here. Bringing in coaches from high school and colleges, nutritionists, the coaches from the Rangers, it's the best instructing staff I have ever seen at a hockey school."
Every aspect of the camp revolves around both hockey and on and off-ice training. Fitness, preparation, stamina, agility, and training are themes that drive the camp - right down to the lunch menu choices, which reinforce the importance of healthy eating.
The lessons learned at the camp on Monday were reinforced when the campers saw that Kasparaitis and Orr use their own free time to work out in the gym.
"When you work hard, you work smart," said Rangers Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Reg Grant as he demonstrated the drills he uses to strengthen players like Jaromir Jagr.
Many returning campers said they and their families made up their minds to return this summer immediately following last year's camp.
"My parents think it is a very good camp because I had a really great time, and after last year, I got a lot better as a hockey player," one returning camper said. "It's a great camp. I'm coming here every year and I think everyone else here should too."
Other instructors at this year's camp include Rangers Assistant Coach Mike Pelino and former Ranger players Dave Maloney, Brian Mullen, and Ken Gernander.
Limited space is still available for the camp's second session, which begins on July 24. For more information about the camp, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
or call (212) 465-6553.