Well, Its been a little longer than expected to get this summary out but here it is. Please keep in mind that the following contains my personal opinions and I’m sure readers will not agree with many of my observations, which is fine. In fact you are encouraged to express your self with constructive comments, thought, and experiences.
This was my fourth visit to a girls national camp and my first to St. Cloud. For this summary of the camp, I will cover a bit about St. Cloud and the facilities and then break down a few of my good, bad, and ugly moments of the camp. I’ll follow up with my recommendations for the next camp.
Location and Facilities
St. Cloud, MN is a small town about an hour northwest of the twin cities and sits on the banks of the Mississippi river. USAH has been using the St. Cloud State University facilities for at least the last 4 years as a host site for it’s national development camps. Up until this year, the boys programs were held there but have since moved to Rochester, NY. Although not fact, it’s been said that the boys programs complained for many years about the facilities in St. Cloud and they were finally moved to Rochester this year. In turn, the older girls were put in St. Cloud instead of Rochester or Lake Placid.
To understand any issues I bring up regarding the St. Cloud facilities, I will use the Rochester facilities as a comparison. In St. Cloud, the dormitories that the girls stay in are old, very small, have no A/C, utilize a single large common bathroom and shower facilities, and are fairly far from the rink facilities. Rochester on the other hand has brand new state of the art dorms that consist of suites with 4 separate bedrooms and 2 bathrooms sharing a common area that has a kitchen (fridge and microwave). Comparing the training facilities: the Rochester site has 4 NHL size sheets vs. 2 Olympic size sheets in St. Cloud.
From a spectator and organizational point of view my opinion is Rochester is better. Every rink in Rochester has good viewing opportunities, and they have a centralized concourse area where vendors, team meeting rooms, and athlete congregation can occur. St. Cloud has no such common area and watching anything on the practice rink was difficult and uncomfortable. Given there are so many facilities across the US that are much better, why have it in St. Cloud? What happened to Lake Placid?
Another point worth noting was the apparent number of spectators and scouts in St. Cloud. I’ve been to these events before and my totally unscientific observations were there we less parents and scouts at this event. Why? Don’t know, maybe it was too early in the summer, maybe it was too far, maybe most of the girls at these events have been seen before, maybe they have budget cuts for travel at the schools?. I don’t know.
I don’t want to give the impression that St. Cloud was a terrible venue because it wasn’t. I would say it was adequate. However, since there are better, I must admit I was a little disappointed.
Despite my slight disappointment in the facilities, there were a lot of good things this year at camp. The first thing I will mention is the overall organization of the event. There are a lot of logistics at something like this, keeping track of almost 200 girls not withstanding. I heard of no issues shuttling girls to and from the Minneapolis airport, heard of no confusion of where and when girls needed to be places, etc. This should not be overlooked. USAH runs a tight ship when it comes to these camps and this one was no different. Of course the times and timing of games and practices did suffer with only 2 sheets of ice available.
This is the first year I really became aware of the trainers at these camps. As reported earlier there were a lot of girls injured at the camp and every one I talked with had nothing but good things to say about the trainers. From pre-game heat, massage, stretching, and taping to post game ice baths, and ice wraps, the trainers had their work cut out for them. In every case, the trainers did a great job.
One of the things at the girls camps last year that was fairly disappointing was the format of the camp. Three years ago the camps were mostly games with some team practices thrown in. While I’m actually a fan of this at the older groups the younger groups really could benefit from more development. Thus last year, USAH decided to put the “development” back in the development camp. Many thought they went overboard having only 2 games and the rest of the sessions development drills and skating. Sure development is good, but these are supposed to be the top girls coming into camp and they want to show off their hard work by playing games. A balance was needed after last year and this year I think they almost got it right. Most of the practices focused on the basics with more advanced drills thrown in. The games were held later in the week and although they had their problems, I think a few more games would be about right.
The mixing of the different talent levels across the teams was very good. USAH (or dumb luck) seemed to achieve a fairly good mix of talent levels on the teams such that the games were even. As to talent level, I would say the distribution was fairly close, especially at the U17 level. At U16’s there was a little wider distribution but overall I rarely noticed a player that was out of place.
Finally, congratulations are due the St. Cloud hosts for doing something I haven’t seen at a national camp before, having announcers at the games. It was nice having the goals, assists, penalties, numbers, time, called out on the PA system. It actually felt like real games.
This is fairly difficult for me as I’m generally look for the positives. However, by outlining what I thought were the bad things at camp, hopefully they can be improved for next year. The first one is obvious as I’ve talked about it earlier. The facilities. These camps need to be held at better facilities and frankly I’m tired of the girls programs at USAH always getting the leftovers from the boys.
The second bad thing from the week was the scheduling. Given there were only two rinks and 10 teams that needed to practice and play games they needed more sheets. Some teams practiced as early as 7am, went back to the dorms, had lunch, back to the rink for off ice, back to the dorms for rest, dinner, back to the rink for late games, throw in some seminars and it makes for long long days (remember the rink is not that close to the dorms). Solution, more sheets of ice allows more options, flexibility, and a more cohesive camp experience.
Another issue I have was the time of year of the event. Being held the week before July 4th seems like bad timing to me. Many girls have been out of school for less than a month and most have started summer off ice conditioning programs that are geared to peak around the season start. Early summer workouts are geared toward building strength and muscle in anticipation of later working on explosive power and speed later in the summer. Having camp this early rarely has the girls at their peak. In my opinion, camps should be held right before the season starts, say mid August.
The final “bad” I will mention this year was the obvious individual showcase atmosphere of the games, particularly at the U16 level. I don’t know if it was the coaching, the few number of games or implied individual focus of the camp that was the reason, but it was a problem. I mentioned it in some of my summaries and I will mention it again. The U16 games were simply “Me” events, not hockey games. At times I felt like I was watching a mite game as that was the last time I’ve seen so many “coast to coast” skating situations. From the defense taking stupid shots (blocks constantly) when open passes were obvious to constant 2 on 1 and 3 on 1 situations where no pass was attempted or considered, the play was not good. But at this camp it was the norm and the girls knew it, thus a downward spiral continued with each game. Any good coach would go nuts about these things so it must have been something USAH encouraged.
On a brighter note, the U17′s didn’t seem to have the same problem. Maybe it was the fewer number of girls, maybe less were trying to prove themselves (national team or committed), or maybe they were a year older and wiser.
The ugly things about this camp really have to do with player moral at the end of camp as a direct effect of the recently (last year) added “All-Star” game. I witnessed the effect last year and again this year. The effect? Large scale disappointment and disillusionment once the selections were made. However this year it seemed worse. For the first time I personally heard more than a few girls were openly speaking out about how unfair the selections were and even going as far as saying they were not going to tryout’s next year. No, these weren’t “disgruntled average players”, these were some of the top girls at camp. I won’t go into the fairness of the selections as it doesn’t matter. What does matter is what the athletes know and think. These girls aren’t stupid, for the most part they know where they stand against other players. It’s that fact which made this year’s selections so difficult for them. In the end, the AS selections, coupled with the final day cross-ice games had too many girls leaving camp with low moral. Exactly the wrong thing we should be doing with these athletes.
So what’s what’s the purpose of the “All-Star” game? Maybe it’s USAH’s way of putting the girls they are interested in (for one or more reasons) together for a game to see how they play against some of the national team players? If that’s the case, then call it what it is, a player evaluation game, not an all-star game. However, I contend that it’s not needed at all. In my “recommendations” section below, I’ll give my reasons and what I would change and why.
Topping the end of camp was the final day cross-ice games which were most likely designed to let the girls have some fun playing against each other. However, for most it was pretty much a joke and the final insult. Poorly run half ice games, girls waiting over 5 minutes to get a shift, half hearted play. Not fun, not needed.
Of course it’s easy to point out the bad and ugly but much harder to suggest how to make things better. The following are my recommendations for making future camps even better.
- Remove the All-Star game and Increase Team Competition and Games – By removing the All-Star game (and cross-ice games) USAH will have room for one more day of games, say playoffs. I mentioned above there was a distinct lack of team play, particularly with the U16’s. By focusing more on team play over the week, and rewarding the top teams with a Championship game, the behavior will get modified. No longer is the camp a “Me” camp but now its a “Team” camp. Reward the right behavior, don’t penalize it.
- Better location and Dates – While St. Cloud was an okay location for a camp, there are many that are better. Locations that can support a maximum of 4 teams per sheet are optimal. Lodging areas should promote teamwork, camaraderie, have modern facilities, and be close to training and seminar areas. As to dates, optimally they should be moved later in the summer if possible.
- Do everything possible to reward the girls – To make it to this level requires individual determination, hard work, practice and of course skill. But it’s also a tribute to the support they are getting from parents, local organizations, and USAH. As such, USAH should celebrate this success, share the pride of the their accomplishments, and in turn should be leveraging them to start giving back to the local community. Each of these girls are and should be role models for all female athletes and young players in their communities. Have a seminar with these girls, show them the joy of giving back so that girls hockey will continue to expand. Send the girls home proud of themselves and their accomplishments.
Please feel free to comment below or email me with your thoughts.