JACKSON HOLE, WYO – While most kids in Jackson Hole were outdoors soaking up the last of summer before school gets back in session, a fanatical few crazy about their favorite winter sport hit the ice.
More than a few, actually. Over a hundred local kids participated in a weeklong hockey camp organized by the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. With fresh ice down at the Snow King Sports and Event Center for a couple of weeks in August, pint-sized participants in the Jackson Youth Hockey program including squirts, peewees, and bantams took advantage of a chance to skate and improve their game.
For members of the LA Kings front office and player alumni, this week was a chance to return to Jackson and feed a community hungry for the sport of hockey.
“We did our first one back in October and had about 115-120 kids. It was an unbelievable turnout for a three-day camp and we thought, ‘We’ll have to come back here in the summer,’” says Courtney Ports, manager of hockey development for the Kings.
For the half-dozen ambassadors of the sport who put on the clinic here in Jackson it is their eighth and final hockey camp of the summer before heading to China to do one there. The group has also been to Tahoe, Park City, Whitefish, and Santa Barbara this summer.
Wherever you go, hockey is hockey.
“Hockey, anywhere, you all speak the same language. Every hockey room anywhere everybody talks about the same things. Hockey is the universal language and I think that’s one of the things that makes the sport so unique,” Ports says. “You come up here and meet some of the guys that play on the local team (JH Moose) and it’s like you’ve known them for years after sitting in the locker room with them for two minutes. I think it’s just the hockey culture that has a different vibe.”
For those close to the sport, hockey has always been a tightknit community. There is something about the game that draws close anyone who’s ever played it at any level, anywhere in the world.
And in Jackson Hole, organizers of the Kings youth camp see a community hungry for hockey.
“These kids are really respectful. They are really, really well-behaved kids. It doesn’t take much to get them to pay attention,” Ports notes. “And they want more hockey. They want to play more. It’s a bummer they don’t have the ice as often as they want it because I think some of these kids would be out here 24/7 if they could. You can see it when even before camp starts they are sitting on the bench yelling, ‘Can we get on? Can we get on?’ They are eager. They are hungry for it. It’s good to see hockey is alive and well and these kids really want to play.”
The weeklong camp in Jackson consisted of typical hockey drills, the kids learning from experts who’ve played the game for decades including former NHLer Kyle Calder, who made stops with the Chicago Blackhawks (2000-06), Philadelphia Flyers (2006), Detroit Redwings (2006-07), LA Kings (2007-09), and Anaheim Ducks (2009-10).
Skills and drills are just part of it. Camp organizers make sure young hockey players also become better human beings.
“For us, the hockey skillset side of things is fun. We want these kids to be better hockey players and to learn, but we want to make sure they are better individuals, too, when it’s all done,” Ports says. “We hold everyone accountable. A couple of times we had to run a few bag skates…making sure that they are also being good humans. I think hockey is a unique sport in that it is a pretty humble sport and culture, and we try to instill that in every camp we do.”
Participants in the LA Kings youth hockey camp: Kyle Calder, Courtney Ports, Jordan Watt (Coordinator, Lil’ Kings & Events, Hockey Development at Los Angeles Kings), Robert Sarkissian (Chariot Staff at Los Angeles Kings), Marisa Blanco (Hockey Coordinator, Chariot Staff and Events at Los Angeles Kings), Kris Bueno (Media Relations, Los Angeles Kings)