For most of us who have never played in the National Hockey League, the assumption has long been that each and every one of the game’s top pros used hockey camps as a launching pad.
|Mike Mottau (Avon, Mass.) will be sending his oldest son to hockey camp this summer. (Getty Images)|
In some cases, that’s true. Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby and Rangers center Brad Richards spent weeks on end training at Andrews Hockey Growth Programs every summer. But not all players follow the same path.
“I never really did hockey camps growing up,” Bruins defenseman Mike Mottau (Avon, Mass.) confessed. “I went through my town program. It was the Randolph-Stoughton-Avon-Holbrook Mohawks. We’d have some of the Bruins come by every once in a while and just run one little clinic. I was a mite or a first-year squirt. It was Rick Middleton, Al Pedersen and maybe Bruce Shoebottom.”
Though his time in formal camps was minimal, the experience has stuck with him for a lifetime.
“It was great,” Mottau said of getting to skate with members of the Bruins. “There was a ton of kids on the ice, but you always thought they were watching you and stuff so it was really exciting for me.”
For Mottau, who was traded by the New York Islanders to Boston in February, most of his training wasn’t done just outside of camps, but off the ice completely.
“I did a lot of street hockey in the driveway,” the former Boston College star said. “I had this street hockey ball that my dad made. He cut up a tennis ball and put it inside of a Wiffle ball, so it was like the weight of a puck but it slid better. I did a bunch of drills around cones with the backhand toe drag and forehand toe drag. It was just a lot of street hockey. On ice, it was just whatever the coaches were doing.”
But now, at 34, Mottau has a newfound interest in hockey camps.
“I have a son now who is 6 years old,” the father of four said. “I think we’re going to sign him up (for camp). … It’s a whole day camp, and it’s a bunch of different sports, but they’re on the ice as well. He can do that for five days with some of his friends from the area.”
The 2000 Hobey Baker Award winner has a good understanding of what to look for when selecting where to send his son.
“It’s making sure that it’s age-appropriate first,” he said. “The first thing is they’ve got to have fun and make it fun for the kids. The secondary stuff is to really learn the game and the skills. There’s different camps. Obviously you can do a fun camp, but if your kids are a little bit older and want to see that skill development, then you want it to be more focused and structured teaching with intensity.”
Teaching, as it turns out, is something the veteran defenseman knows something about.
“I’ve done some stuff in the summer and I’ve taught some kids one-on-one at the Dedham (Mass.) rink,” Mottau said. “So as far as moving forward with my son, I’m going to look for whatever I can give him and then whatever he wants to be doing. It’s really a balance of skill development and keeping it light enough where it’s fun to go to the rink every time. As they get older, you want to hone it in a bit and make it more intense.”
Though having fun is of the utmost importance at this stage, Mottau’s confident some summer training will be beneficial for his son.
“I think the exciting part about those camps is you never know when something’s going to click and someone’s going to get it,” he said. “My son took a jump in his development when we were down on Long Island. He was doing a skill-development thing down there. It was exciting for me to see as a parent because it gave him confidence and made him want to go home and practice a little bit.”
Sounds like Mottau might have to follow in his father’s footsteps and start cutting up tennis balls.
This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
Jesse Connolly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org