May 9, 2014

2014 Summer hockey camp guide

By Jesse Connolly

If we all took a moment to look into the backgrounds of colleagues in each of our respective professions, the similarities we’d come across are bound to be endless.

Ask any of the growing number of young writers covering the Bruins these days why they set out on this career path and you’d repeatedly run into identical tales. We all loved the game and watched it faithfully growing up. We lived for those few nights every season when we got to go to the Garden (or, as it was known in my increasingly distant days of youth, the FleetCenter) to see the Bruins up close and personal. We wanted nothing more than to combine our passion for the sport and our passion for creativity and make a living off of it.

The same goes for hockey camp instructors, who’ve played, studied and taught the game to others throughout their entire lives. But much like the scribes who write about this sport, they’re not exactly carbon copies of one another. They come from different corners of the globe and different schools of thought, and collectively boast an endless array of experiences within the wide-reaching hockey universe.

New England Hockey Journal caught up with three instructors with distinctly different backgrounds to discuss how they got to where they are today and how their experiences along the way have molded how they now teach the game.

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Steve Strunk was born in the summer of 1968 and grew up in Wausau, Wis. 
A standout during his four years at 
Colorado College, Strunk played professionally from 1992-97 in the ECHL, IHL and American Hockey League.

Now the vice president of Planet Hockey, he fondly remembers his days of youth as a camp-goer and what it took for him to take part every summer.

“Growing up in Wisconsin, I saved up my paper route money and I went to one week of camp at Michigan Tech,” Strunk recalled. “It was a resident five-day camp. Since I was 14 or 15, I helped as a counselor and junior instructor. I was teaching power skating at 17, 18, at different camps. To do what I do now for a living is really cool.”

Just months after Strunk was born in Wisconsin, a then-3-year-old Graeme Townshend moved from Jamaica to Toronto. He rose from humble beginnings in Ontario, shining in the ECAC for Rensselaer before beginning a decade-long pro career that included 22 games for the Boston Bruins during the 1989-90 and 1990-91 seasons.

Townshend, who now runs Townshend Hockey, played in 686 games at the pro level — pretty good for a guy who never formally attended a hockey camp during his boyhood in Ontario.

“I didn’t go to any camps growing up. I couldn’t afford it,” Townshend said. “I would’ve loved to. I played soccer in the summer, so I didn’t even skate in the summer. When I was 19 years old, I kind of played at the lowest rung of hockey in Toronto. I never played AAA or AA. I played Junior B hockey in Toronto and happened to be a highly recruited player that year. RPI had a skating and skills coach, and it was Mr. (Paul) Vincent. I was given the opportunity that if I went to RPI, I could skate with Paul in the summer. I took them up on that offer.”

At the tail end of Townshend’s freshman season at RPI in 1986, Topher Bevis was born in Harvard, Mass. Bevis would go on to play for Lawrence Academy, the Junior Bruins, the U.S. National Team Development Program and at UMass-Amherst (2005-09) under coach Toot Cahoon (Lynn, Mass.).

Now in his third year with the Junior Bruins Hockey School, the former Minuteman has learned plenty from each of his coaches along the way. “I would say I draw a lot from my overall hockey experiences,” said Bevis. “My experience under coach John Hynes at the national program has helped me be creative with skill drills. At the U.S. NTDP we were drilled in a lot of different ways and styles. This has helped me come up with great drills for the kids.

“At UMass, under Coach Cahoon, they really taught me the X’s and O’s of hockey. With each game at the college level played like a playoff game, understanding team concepts and why to execute them helped me understand the game from a different angle. This has helped me as a coach.”

Townshend, whose focus is on the skating aspect of the game, affirmed his pro experiences play a big role in what he teaches today.

“A great deal. Absolutely,” said Townshend, who’s instructed a number of NHLers over the years, including Rangers forwards Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards. “I coached at the professional level for several years as well. You have to be able to think on your feet because you might have a specific practice plan coming into the day, and suddenly you see something you don’t like and then you have to change gears. It really helped prepare me. Pro playing and pro coaching helped me to adapt to situations. You’re always adapting in games, especially as a coach. That’s kind of what I have to do as a skills coach and with youth players.”

Youth players are the focus at Planet Hockey, enabling Strunk to dispense his wisdom on experiences that youngsters might not have encountered yet in the game.

“Some people go through and never have an injury until all the sudden they’re playing junior hockey and they suffer through it,” he said. “It’s really a lot to understand and work through. I can think of so many different things from all the way through my career that I’m able to pass along to these guys at different levels and different capacities. The little details and the little things you pick up along the way, to be able to pass that along to the players within our Planet Hockey programs, that was a huge part of it.”

Strunk enjoys the opportunity to mold those who have lofty goals within the sport, just as he takes pride in making camp as great of an experience as possible for those who are simply there to have fun.

“As a coach, you really dial in on maybe just a handful of kids at each camp that really have aspirations to play beyond high school or the abilities to maybe play beyond that, play in college or beyond that at any level,” Strunk said. “But I’ve really grown to enjoy working with those kids that are brand new and just having fun, and being able to pick out a few of those kids and really push those buttons. I think a good coach recognizes that.”

While Bevis quickly made the jump from college student to hockey instructor, he concurs there are benefits to not being far removed from his playing days.

“I would say that I have a passion for the game and an energy level that comes with being a younger man,” the 27-year-old Bevis said. “I love working with kids because they have that same passion for hockey. It’s about pushing them hard in a way that makes it fun. Working hard and getting better should be fun.”

The importance of having fun can certainly never be discounted.

“Our Jay Peak, Vermont, camp offers some fun night activities we take part in,” Bevis said. “We will teach the campers the sport of curling, play broomball, and go to the water park. These activities are a giant hit amongst the campers. By 10 p.m., the campers have their lights out and are getting ready for another day of camp.”

Strunk, Planet Hockey’s lead international instructor, will be heading over to Stockholm, Sweden, in the summer for what promises to be an incredibly unique experience for his young camp-goers.

“We want the Swedish coaches this summer to train our players, and they want some of our North American ideas presented to their players,” he said. “It’s really a neat thing. As a lead director, you get to kind of guide the ship. This summer in Sweden, it’s going to be a five-day Swedish camp that’s in place from eight in the morning until five in the evening. Then our kids will go back and stay with their host brothers. Those types of camps, they have hot lunch served right there, mid-day. It’s a little bit different approach.”

At the end of the day, while they’ve all followed different paths to get to their current positions, Strunk, Townshend and Bevis all share the common goal of providing a productive, memorable experience for their campers.

“Some kids want to just come to a clinic and say, ‘Boy, I’d love to do a camp.’ Other kids will do a five-day camp and say, ‘I could go away to a resident camp,’ ” Strunk said. “And then some parents will say, ‘Boy, I’d love to broaden my son’s hockey experience. A trip over to Europe to see how these Europeans do things would be pretty cool.’ We’re pretty lucky to be able to offer some pretty cool opportunities to hockey players today.”

For a listing of area summer hockey camps, click here.

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This article originally appeared in the April edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.