A banker by trade, Correia wasn’t satisfied when the Red Wings weren’t interested in hosting their annual week-long training camp in the picturesque beauty of northwestern Michigan.
“I had been begging for about five years and had always been turned down,” Correia said.
Then came the break that Correia needed: Ken Holland was elevated to general manager in the Red Wings’ organization in July 1997.
Correia, who hadn’t meet Holland prior to then, asked for a meeting with the new GM, and presented his case for Hockeytown North.
“He had to tell me what he was wearing for when I picked him up from the airport,” Correia said. “I knew he was a brand-new GM and I told him, ‘The first thing you’ll do is training camp. I also know that you don’t know a thing about us. You’re taking a heck of a chance if you do this, because if this bombs, they’re going to say how in the hell is Ken Holland.’ So I promised him that we wouldn’t embarrass him and that we would make him proud. That was a big chance for him.”
It was a chance that has paid-off for Correia, the Red Wings and their fans, as well as the Traverse City community.
This month marks 10 years that the Wings have held camp here. They also just completed 10-straight years for the Prospects Tournament at Centre ICE Arena, which is arguably one of the nicest community rinks in North America.
“The other NHL teams that come up to the prospects camp -- we had seven teams last week -- can not believe how efficient, how well-run, how organized camp is,” Holland said.
It’s a tribute to Correia’s organizational skills and those of the 180-plus volunteers that help make the Prospects Tournament and Wings’ camp such huge successes.
In 1982, Correia helped establish a grassroots organization called ICE -- which stands for
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Involved Citizens Enterprises – that raised funds to build the first rink of its kind in this area. He took a few years off from his banking job to oversee the construction of Centre ICE, now home to two sheets of ice with a breezeway that connects the two surfaces. It’s ideal for training camp purposes when coaches want to break-up into groups and utilize both surfaces.
The rink opened in 1997 and hosted the Wings for the first time just three months after they swept Philadelphia in the Stanley Cup finals.
“The first two years we didn’t know what we were do, so we used 600 volunteers to manage it,” said Correia, who has been the camp's site manager for all 10 years. “We’re down to about 180 now and we feel that we’re much more efficient; you learn each year. Now we’ve been going for 10 years, and we’re having a great time with it.”
The Wings have never had a problem selling-out the six-day event, which includes a golf tournament and dinner held on the eve of each training camp at Grand Traverse Resort.
The volunteers operate everything from concessions and tickets to merchandise sales to transportation for the players from the hotel to the rink, which holds 1,800 fans comfortably.
“It would be a major undertaking, obviously, to try and have training camp outside of Detroit and think we’re going to run it,” Holland said. “You need someone to run it, and Pete has volunteer. He has Traverse Motors vehicles and we have shuttle service for the players and he has people all around the rink. So for us over the past 10 years, it’s been an unbelievable experience for our players. The two sheets of ice are nice that we can slide over from one sheet to another, but ultimately, the people here that roll out the red carpet is what makes this such an enjoyable week.”
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When the Red Wings aren’t in town, Centre ICE is home to the Traverse City North Stars, a member of the North American Hockey League, and three high school teams. So this one week in September gives a huge economic boost to the region.
“We run about 300,000 people a year through the facility through its use,” Correia said. “But with the camp, we have people that camp-out for two days to get training camp tickets. They get so geeked up, it’s terrific. Last year, we had people from 38 states and Canada here to see the Wings practice. It’s been very exciting.
“A couple of years ago when we didn’t have the main camp when the CBA was going on with the lockout, I did a quick calculation. It was an impact of about $3.5 million. That was three years ago, and now we’re probably pushing that $4 million mark. For a 10-11 day period, that’s not all bad.”
The Wings and ICE have been a tremendous partnership, once that Correia and Holland hope will last another 10 years.
“It works for us and I think Ken likes that,” Correia said. “He’s still the driver. You might say that I run the camp, but in all seriousness, Ken and I walk through and see what we’ll do different. I always bounce things off of him.
“My favorite thing about Ken is that when he says he’s going to do something, he does it. I’m the same way, so we have a good relationship.”