Camp Package: From Here to Eternity

Lessons Learned And Friendships Made At Player Development Camps Can Last A Lifetime
Jessi Pierce

What might have appeared as just another summer day in central  Minnesota was anything but.

In St. Cloud, Minn., the sweltering mid-July heat pushes the thermometer to the edge of 100 degrees. But inside the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center, there is the perfect air-conditioned escape for dozens of parents, college coaches and scouts who came out to see top-notch hockey.

At just 15 years old, the players on the ice are the best of the best. They are the future of college programs and U.S. Women’s National Teams.

“You’re bringing together some of the most talented girls from all across the nation for one week of high-end development,” says four-time U.S. Olympian Jenny Potter, who is now the head coach at Ohio State University.

“These girls are going to continue the tradition of USA Hockey on an international level. They are all working toward wearing that ‘USA’ crest across their chest. And thanks to these development camps they are getting closer to that opportunity.”

The road to St. Cloud was anything but easy. Approximately 3,200 female players ages 15 to 17 take part in District tryouts. From there, 216 girls with a birth year of 2001 were allotted spots in the Girls’ 15 Player Development Camp. Another 180 girls competed in the U18 Camp and 66 more girls were chosen for the U18 Select camp.

“It was really tough to get here. [At District tryouts] there were a lot of really good girls from my region,” admits Jenna Stevens, who came from Avon, Conn.

“But it was also fun, too. Festival weekend was a lot of fun and I got to know a lot of people from different states. Plus, it was really good hockey.

“Now I’m happy that I made it here and am able to experience even better hockey.”

Bringing together so many high-caliber players can be challenging. Players often enter the camp filled with nerves about being on a new team surrounded by new faces, and trying to perform at their best. It’s one of the reasons that team bonding and get-to-know-each other gatherings are made a big part of the curriculum.

“When I first got here, I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous,” says Shannon Bucci of East Greenwich, R.I. “But everyone was really welcoming and really nice. It’s great because I’m with a bunch of other girls my age who love to play hockey like I do. That’s really comforting for me. We’re all having a fun time, and I’m just enjoying every moment right now.”

During downtime between games, practices, nutrition education and skill work, each squad participates in team building exercises. Players who were otherwise shy begin to come out of their shell thanks to the extroverts on the team.

“I think the outgoing people have helped the team come together, especially on the bench where everyone is supporting one another and talking,” says Eagan, Minn., native Brooke Peplinski, Bucci’s teammate on the Teal squad. “Once we all started to get to know each other, you start to have a lot more fun on the ice. It’s nice to all talk together and get to know each other. It makes you calm down a bit.”

On top of walking away from the weeklong camp with new friends and memorable experiences, these players receive coaching from some of the best in the nation.

Former Olympians and Div. I coaches offer advice both on and off the ice. Not only are they a part of furthering the player’s development, they are role models to the girls who hope to play at that same level some day.

USA Hockey Player Development Camps give girls the opportunity to bond with other top players from around the country and learn from high-level coaches on and off the ice in St. Cloud, Minn.USA Hockey Player Development Camps give girls the opportunity to bond with other top players from around the country and learn from high-level coaches on and off the ice in St. Cloud, Minn.

“I think one of the big things I want them to leave this camp with is, not only are there realistic goals for them to achieve, but there’s also a lot of work that comes with that,” says Gretchen Ulion Silverman, a 1998 U.S. Olympian and head coach of the Gold team.

“It’s not easy, and it gets harder and harder every year…But the opportunity they have at this camp—to see real role models who have achieved things at the highest level, [who are now] coaching them and helping develop their game—that’s a really huge thing.”

The girls who came to St. Cloud took a small step toward being a bigger part of the USA Hockey family. All of them hope to continue that journey forward, whether that means making a triple A team, earning a college scholarship or having the honor of one day wearing the red, white and blue.

“It’s a really big honor to even be invited to a national development camp,” says Maeve Connolly of West Roxbury, Mass.

“We’re all here and we’re all working our hardest, trying to get to the next level. I know every girl here is working their hardest, and it’s fun to be a part of that. We all just want to be a part of USA Hockey. Hopefully one day we will have that label on our shirts. That’s what we’re looking for.”

Jessi Pierce is a writer with Touchpoint Media based out of Minneapolis.


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