September 12, 2008
Coyotes ‘mini-camp’ draws game’s youth to Chandler
If those within the Phoenix Coyotes front office wanted to find tangible, real-life proof that the organization's Hockey Development Program not only taught necessary on-ice skills to youngsters, but also helped grow the team's fan base, they now certainly have it.
Ten-year-old Brian Wirachowski and his parents visited Phoenix area last month on vacation from their home in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Before they left, Brian's dad found out about the Youth Hockey Mini Camp – scheduled by the Coyotes for August 15-17 at the Desert Schools Coyotes Center (Polar Ice) facility in Chandler – and signed him up.
Brian admitted he didn't have much knowledge of the Coyotes roster, including current stars and camp instructors Peter Mueller, Keith Yandle and Mikkel Boedker, before he arrived.
"No actually; I didn't," young Wirachowski said, adding that he's certainly now a new fan of the Coyotes. "But I'll know them now."
Queen Creek native Tyler Pressley, 10, a squirt-level goaltender who's been between the pipes for only a year, said one of his thrills attending the camp was getting instruction from NHL goaltending stalwart Sean Burke, now the Coyotes' director of prospect development.
"It feels so exciting," said Pressley, who makes Chandler's Polar Ice his home rink. "I'm working on getting my first shutout – a real one."
"I enjoy it. The kids are great, obviously," Burke said of the opportunity to take the ice during the mini camp. "We all remember when we were younger, looking up to the professional athletes. For something like this, especially in a place like Arizona where there are so many ex-hockey players living around here, it's fun to come out and try and give a little bit of encouragement to these kids, and I think we're going to see a few native Arizona kids eventually play in the NHL."
Burke, who retired officially before last season after nearly two decades at the NHL level, said the chance to stay near the ice is what draws him in to camps like those offered by the Coyotes.
"I do enjoy it still. I help coach my son's team. I do get on the ice, I play defense in a men's league," Burke said. "You know, hockey is a huge part of my life, and I do hope to pass on some things to the younger guys."
For 10-year-old winger Ryan Neelan, a Chandler native also based out of Polar Ice, skating with the pros isn't only about the star-factor; there's something to learn, too.
"Well it's a real thrill. The best part is how you get to see how they do their practicing and that type of stuff," he said.
"It's a lot of work but just seeing the kids faces when they get to see some of the NHL players and get autographs, that's a lot of fun for me," said Scott Storkan, the Coyotes director of hockey development, of the mini-camp, which offered instruction in power skating, shooting, passing and off-ice conditioning, as well as in-depth goaltending instruction.
Storkan said that this year's camp didn't draw quite as many as last year's, which was held at nearby Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, but that drawing fans and youth players from far and wide, like the Canadian Wirachowski, proves that the interest will continue.
Storkan also added that it's by design that the camps draw the pros who specifically end up showing up to help. To Storkan, who also takes the ice to offer instruction, the camp, albeit short, is intended to teach kids a the skills they need to succeed on the ice.
"When we ask for guys to participate, we always look for guys that are personable and can interact with the kids and show them some things," Storkan said. "They're here to show them that it doesn't happen with the snap of a finger to get to the NHL. It takes a lot of hard work and you have to treat it like that and just get better each day."