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Development Camp at Kettler Boosts Teens' Preseason Prep

09/09/2016, 9:45am MDT
By Jayson Hron - USA Hockey

USA Hockey and Washington Little Caps host inaugural event

Prioritizing practice and competing in meaningful games are core tenets of USA Hockey’s American Development Model. Last weekend’s USA Hockey Labor Day Development Camp reinforced both, providing 160 players from five NHL-affiliated youth hockey programs a solid foundation for the coming season.

Hosted at Kettler IcePlex in partnership with the Washington Capitals, the camp featured three days of training, competition and off-ice presentations built specifically for 14- and 15-year-olds. Ken Martel, Scott Paluch and Phil Osaer helped staff the event for USA Hockey, partnering with coaches and presenters from the participating teams, the NHL, the AHL and the NCAA.

Saturday and Sunday began with station-based practices followed by presentations and mini-games; Monday offered a final day of mini-games to determine the round-robin champions in each age group (2002-born champions: Columbus Blue Jackets AAA; 2001-born champions: Pittsburgh Penguins Elite).

Working in his home rink, Dan Jablonic, hockey director for the Washington Little Caps, served as the event’s lead host. The former University of Minnesota Duluth winger rolled out the red carpet in true Capitals style, a fact not lost on the participants.

“We really liked it,” said Freddy Modin, whose son skates with the Blue Jackets 2001s. “Kettler is a first-class facility and everything was right there.”

Modin amassed 462 points and a Stanley Cup championship in 898 NHL games with Toronto, Tampa Bay, Columbus, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Calgary. Now he assists head coach Mike Morrone with the Blue Jackets 2001s.

“It’s the first year for my son in a AAA program, so we didn’t really know what to expect, but this was a great way to start the season,” said Modin. “Everything was focused on developing the players, from the practices to the games to the off-ice presentations.”

Raised in Sweden, Modin has been living in North America since the mid-1990s. He was back in Sweden in 2004-05 during the NHL lockout, and his travels back and forth gave him a diverse perspective on player development tactics. His early years of youth hockey in Sweden weren’t hyper-intense. Instead, the focus was simply getting kids together on the ice and having fun. He’s seen his home country elevate its emphasis on skill work through the years and he likes how USA Hockey’s ADM promotes age-appropriate skill development.

“It’s really good,” said Modin. “I like it a lot. The kids are constantly working on something; there’s a constant focus on skills.”

While Modin was experiencing the camp with 15-year-olds, Little Caps head coach Tom Morrissey was leading the younger invitees. His club is preparing for a highly-competitive early-season tournament, so he was eager to put his players in a situation that would jump-start their preparations.

“Combining skills-focused practices with the competition of the mini-games really got kids back in the flow and raised their compete level,” he said. “At this age group, it’s just right. We loved it.”

Morrissey also found value in the off-ice presentations by Martel, Brent Darnell of College Hockey Inc., Ty Hennes and J.D. Forrest from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, and Don Granato from the University of Wisconsin.

“The presentations were excellent, both for the players and their parents,” said Morrissey. “Hearing those messages from professionals will have a lasting impact.”

Steven Eberling, whose son plays for the Philadelphia Flyers-affiliated Virtua 2002s, agreed with Morrissey.

“Our players gained a lot of knowledge from the group meetings as it related to preparation for the next level, NCAA opportunities and player development,” said Eberling. “The best advice of the day was when the players were reminded that they are now 14 years old and they shouldn’t need to be prompted to focus on off-ice training, diet and their overall mental and physical development. They should be independent enough now to take responsibility.”

That advice – a common development theme once a player reaches 14 years of age – was interwoven throughout the weekend, both on and off the ice. It’s also featured prominently at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, a destination many of the camp participants aspire to reach in the coming seasons. But regardless of their next-level hopes, the camp was meant to give them a boost toward reaching them, and by all accounts, it did.

“Coming into the weekend, I wasn’t sure how the format was going to play out, but our family was impressed with the skills sessions and the attention the boys received on the ice,” said Kevin Trom, whose son plays for the AAA Carolina Hurricanes 2001s, coached by Jesse Boulerice.

“The presentations were beneficial, the game format worked well, and overall, it was a great way to get ready for the season.”

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