As yet another Minnesota Wild Development Camp has come and gone, there are so many things that I would like to share that I think skaters can benefit from. What one first must understand is what is an NHL development camp. An NHL development camp (or rookie camp) is usually a week-long camp in the summer in which a specific NHL team invites their draft picks from the past few years along with some skaters that are considered free agents (undrafted). Usually each team has about 40 skaters and four goalies, so they can do skills, drills and scrimmages. The average age for these camps is usually between 18 to 22. We have college skaters, guys that played juniors and major juniors, guys that played in European leagues, even players right out of high school. There are so many countries represented. It is such a cool thing for these players to be a part of.
One of the most important things that I have learned year after year of doing these is that there is a drastic difference between players that play hockey and hockey players. What does that mean? It means that these guys are hockey players through and through. These guys do two-a-days on the ice as well as workouts and other types of meetings. On every ice session I was a part of, we would eventually have to kick the skaters off the ice because they just wouldn’t get off. Whether they were practicing shooting, practicing skating or asking the coaches questions, these guys just loved to be on the ice. Anything they can do or any information they can get to become a better player they were going to do. It didn’t matter if they were tired or hungry and it was lunchtime, they were going to soak up the information that they could and make the most of their time.
Another sign of player dedication is the fact that the vast majority of players come in unbelievable shape. Year after year, these skaters come in incredible shape and have an unbelievable level of conditioning. To be honest, if they didn’t, I am not sure how they would ever finish the week as grueling as it is. There is a dedication level to their training. It is consistent as well as executed. At this level, guys are not just going to the gym and throwing a few weights around. They actually have a plan in place and follow it, even on sunny summer days.
Finally, for all of the coaches, it is a week of talking hockey and thinking about hockey. Thinking about a better way to teach concepts or teach skills on the ice. Sharing new drills and new ideas. Learning things you didn’t know before. My area is obviously skating, but if Darby Hendrickson is going to give an hour presentation on faceoffs, I am going to listen.
There is so much to learn from other coaches, and no matter how long these guys have been coaching or involved in the game, they want to learn too. An excellent coach realizes that the game is always evolving and always changing. I really think that in anything you do, you are always continuing to learn, no matter what level you have played or coached. Some of the smartest coaches I have met still ask other colleagues questions to gain more insight on the game. They want to get better just as the players do.
Why am I telling you this and why do I think this is so important for players (especially older players) to understand? We live in the State of Hockey and so many skaters have such big goals and big dreams, yet so many skaters will actually pay this price to play at their highest level. When we are talking about seniors in high school that want to move on to play junior or college hockey, you’re either all in or you’re not in. There is no in-between. There has to be a dedication level to the game. If not, there are just way, way too many good players.
After doing about 10 years of development camps for the Devils and the Wild, it seems every year there are more and more good players. What is going to make these players stand out? How are they going to reach their highest potential? At the end of the day, you can give every player as much information and tools as you can, but it really comes down to the player. Are they going to work on their shot, skating and puck handling? Are they going to have a consistant off-ice training plan? Are they going to sacrifice junk food and learn how to fuel their body properly? Are they going to watch NHL games and try to learn from them? The list goes on. But that’s really the key to growing and developing as a player. Good luck.
Andy Ness is the head skating and skill coach for the Minnesota Wild. He has also been an assistant skating instructor for the New Jersey Devils, the University of Minnesota men’s and women’s hockey teams and the U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey Team.