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Youth Camp Craze

by Joshua Berenter / Detroit Red Wings

DETROIT -- On Monday morning, just hours after the ice was re-installed at Joe Louis Arena, Andreas Athanasiou was showing off his highlight-reel moves, going one-on-one against overmatched goaltenders.

But this time, Athanasiou wasn’t deking NHL goalies at The Joe. He was going against aspiring NHL talent during the first day of the 18th annual Red Wings Youth Hockey Camp.

Athanasiou was one of three current Red Wings players who served as guest instructors during the three-day camp which wrapped up Wednesday afternoon. The rookie, who turns 22 on Saturday, coached his first Youth Camp on Day 1, followed by third-year guest coaches Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening on Days 2 and 3, respectively. 

Former Red Wings goaltending coach Jim Bedard works with Youth Camp goalies. Photo by Dan Mannes, Detroit Red Wings

The camp, which is hosted by four-time Stanley Cup champion Kirk Maltby and former Red Wings goaltending coach Jim Bedard, saw a record 305 participants this year, ranging from 6 to 16 years old, representing 17 states—including Alaska—and two Canadian provinces.

Maltby, who is entering his seventh season as a pro scout for the Red Wings, has been a Youth Camp instructor for five years and relishes the opportunity to work with young hockey players.

“Maltby is great with the kids, especially the younger ones,” said Red Wings youth hockey manager Phil Pierce, who’s helped organize Youth Camp for 10 years. “He’s always talking about memories of being a kid and going to his first hockey school. He enjoys seeing the smile on the kids’ faces and knowing they’re getting better and having fun.”

While Maltby enjoys working with the kids in camp, including his own 8-year-old son Landon, the young players get an even bigger kick out of skating on the same ice as their favorite Red Wings.

“As soon as they step onto the ice, you see their eyes light up, and you can tell they’re a little nervous,” Pierce said. “But once the coaches and players start skating around, giving high fives, the kids begin smiling, laughing and having a blast.”

This camp is the biggest event every year for the Wings’ youth hockey staff, and it’s always a hit, getting rave reviews from participants and parents, often reaching capacity within weeks of going on sale. But this year, being the Farewell Season at The Joe, Youth Camp was an especially tough ticket, selling out in less than a week.

“It just keeps growing. Getting into camp has gotten harder because people keep wanting to come back,” said Red Wings youth hockey coordinator Katelyn McLean. “People are traveling all over the U.S. to come here. We’re getting good reviews and people are telling their friends about it. We want to set the bar high and exceed expectations.”

With the exciting format of on-ice instruction from Red Wings players and coaches, mixed with dryland training, exclusive giveaways and other perks, the majority of participants return to Youth Camp year after year. This year, 70 percent of campers were returning participants.

One of the returning campers in 2016 was 15-year-old goalie Tyler Hazenstab, who has traveled to Detroit from Pittsburgh each of the last five years solely to attend Red Wings Youth Camp.

Hazenstab, a lifelong Pennsylvania resident, said because of his family’s Michigan roots, he’s a die-hard Wings fan and he enjoyed the opportunity to attend Youth Camp for the fifth time.

“I love working with Jim Bedard. He helps me out quite a bit,” Hazenstab said. “And the off-ice training is really helpful. It helps me get my legs in shape for going up and down and moving around a lot. I’m a huge fan of the Red Wings and I just love coming to The Joe for this camp.”

While Bedard was working with the goalies in camp, the skaters got to interact with some of the Red Wings’ up-and-coming forwards.

Sheahan took his turn to mix it up with the kids on Day 2.

“It’s been fun,” Sheahan said with a smile after Tuesday’s morning session. “I just try to kind of make the kids laugh and joke around a little. It’s kind of comforting knowing that they’re enjoying their time and laughing, and they can joke around with one another too. So it’s just been fun.”

With Sheahan and Glendening serving as guest instructors for the third straight summer, they’ve become veterans at Youth Camp. And with over 200 NHL games apiece under their belt, the Red Wings roommates are looking to become leaders for young players in their own locker room as well.

“I think the more games you play, obviously you help those younger guys come in,” Sheahan said. “We’ve got a lot of guys in Grand Rapids that are almost ready to make that jump here, so to be able to help them and kind of guide them along the way, it’ll be fun.”

Sheahan, 24, and Glendening, 27, have stayed in Metro Detroit for most of the offseason, working hard on and off the ice to improve their craft. They’ve continued to work out at Barwis Methods in Plymouth—along with Dylan Larkin and Darren Helm—looking to get faster and stronger.

And with the retirement of legendary forward Pavel Datsyuk, Sheahan knows he and the other young Wings forwards will need to step up this season and be more consistent.

“(I’m) just trying to contribute in every way,” Sheahan said. “The penalty kill, power play and just be more consistent 5-on-5. I think that’ll be huge. Hopefully get a chance out there on the power play and try to continue what I did at the end of the year.”

And while the Red Wings players focus on the upcoming Farewell Season at The Joe, the Wings’ youth hockey staff is already hard at work, planning for future Youth Camps at Little Caesars Arena.

“Being in the new building, we’d love to utilize both rinks at the same time,” Pierce said. “We’ve got more locker rooms there so we can increase the capacity and we’ll have a bigger weight room. There’s a lot of room for growth. We’re looking to make it bigger and better moving into the new arena.”

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