Alleve is my friend.
I am happy to report that the 2008 Lifetime Hockey camp was another tremendous success.
First, after all my hand wringing and teeth gnashing over the baggage situation, I ended up only having to pay the $25 fee for the second bag - both ways! Apparently, FourthBest's bark is much worse than it's bite insofar as their size restriction is concerned. I think that, when the bags did not weigh more than the allotted 50 lbs, they were disinclined to break out the tape measure.
I can't say enough about how well the camp went, nor how well it is run. The "local" staff (Dan and Mark, primarily) really have it down to a science by now, and that allows the coaching staff (who come in from Red Deer, Alberta) to just focus on what they do best: teach the game of hockey.
And they don't just teach it. They inspire a passion for the game that you would expect out of a group of Canadians. They don't talk over people's heads, they respect that - at a camp for beginners and intermediate adult players - the range of ability and experience will vary widely - and they manage to do all this while both imparting some great hockey knowledge and making the experience fun.
Skaters are on the ice at least 3-4 hours a day (not including open ice sessions which many campers take advantage of) for a total of around 15 hours of ice time with a coach. This is supplemented with dryland and chalk talk sessions, yoga and nutritional instruction and information, a coaches game and reception, continental breakfast and hot lunch every day, and great camaraderie throughout.
Full boat (ie no discounts - which are available to returning alumni), skaters pay $545 to attend the camp. While $36/hour of supervised ice time isn't a very good deal, the entire camp includes nearly 40 hours at the rink. I don't think anyone there would feel that $13.62/hour for the camp is a bad deal.
But the real testament to the camp's value comes from the campers themselves. On Sunday morning my buddy and I were sitting outside the rink before getting dressed for the end of camp tournament, talking hockey with three guys: one from West Virginia who is part of a small-but-dedicated group of hockey enthusiasts who get together for pick-up hockey in that ultra-non-traditional market, one from the VA/DC area who is also a Caps season ticket holder (that's the sign of a true hockey fan right there), and the third who had traveled from Sheffield, ENGLAND to attend camp this year after learning about it a couple years ago.
Then there were the two gentlemen who attended camp from Japan this year, one of whom is reported to have been a member of the Japanese national team at one point. The story there was that they are trying to build a similar program in Japan and were here on a fact finding mission. While there was a spoken language barrier, it was fun and cool to communication on the ice* with those guys - and I'm sure I speak for everyone at the camp when I say that we wish them all the best.
Approximately 40% of the campers this year were women. That's awesome! A common scene later in the afternoons was a bunch of women sitting around under one of the trees outside the rink, a drink in hand, kibbitzing about this or that.
I mean, this is the kind of scene that the people that don't believe hockey CAN grow in America need to see. Does it mean hockey WILL grow in America? Not necessarily, no. And I realize that there's a difference in that this took place in Minnesota as opposed to, say, Atlanta or Phoenix. But it did take place, and it attracted people from literally all over the world. There was a father/son/daughter group there. At least one husband-wife tandem.
It's 80 degrees and beautiful outside, but there are 80-odd adults working their fannies off inside in soggy, smelly hockey gear for upwards of 12 hours a day - for no other reason than they love the game.
Why don't you ever hear about football camps like that?
So, my hat's off to the people that make Lifetime Hockey go. It's a great experience for all involved.
*And I do mean that literally. After picking the upper corners on me all day long, I went up to the guy and asked him in pantomime if I was giving him too much over the shoulders. He indicated that I was. A minute later he skated up to me in the crease and asked me in pantomime if I wanted him to continue going top shelf to help me work on it. I did.