By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
TIMMINS – When Aug. 2 rolls around the boys — and girls — of winter will be back on the ice honing their skills at the McIntyre Arena under the tutelage of former NHL phenom Paul Gagne.
Gagne, who is currently the head coach and general manager of the NOJHL’s Timmins Rock, broke into the NHL during the 1980-81 season with the Colorado Rockies after being selected 19th overall in the first round of the 1980 NHL Entry Draft.
Playing for Bill MacMillan, who succeeded the legendary Don Cherry, Gagne enjoyed a solid rookie campaign, scoring 25 goals and adding 17 assists, good for 42 points in 61 games, while spending 12 minutes in the penalty box.
Gagne remained with the Rockies for the 1981-82 season and then moved with the team to New Jersey for the 1982-83 season when it became known as the Devils.
After four seasons with the Devils, Gagne went on to have brief stops with the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Islanders before spending the final six seasons of his professional career playing Europe.
The Iroquois Falls native finished with an NHL line of 390 games, 110 goals, 102 assists, 212 points and 127 penalty minutes.
The puck is scheduled to drop on the annual Gagne Hockey Development Camp Tuesday, Aug. 2, and it will run through Friday, Aug. 5.
Gagne, whose Rock were eliminated by the Cochrane Crunch in a four-game sweep that culminated on March 24, can’t wait to get on the ice.
“Normally, we get somewhere between 90 and 110 kids out,” he said.
“We usually break up the ice into one-third sections, with about eight or nine kids per group. It’s a good time and I really like the format. We work on skill development in the morning and they really work hard. They work on their shooting skills and their skating, forward and backward, pivoting. Then, in the afternoon we have some warm-up drills and then we scrimmage. They have some fun and it is a less stressful atmosphere.”
The players taking part in the camp are divided up into five groups, Group 1 (age seven to nine), Group 2 (age 10 to 12), Group 3 (age 13-16), Group 4 (goalies) and Group 5 (age four to six).
During the camp, players focus on individual skill development using a variety of unique drills designed to improve their control, agility, reflex, technique, edge, and muscle retention skills. They also work on offensive and defensive plays, and controlled game situations where they are encouraged to apply and work on their new skills.
Many of the kids taking part in the camp return year after year, offering Gagne a chance to see how they have progressed.
“You see them come in and some of them end up going to play ‘AAA’ hockey at the midget or bantam level,” he said.
“Even the players who don’t go on to play at the highest level still go on to develop. From Day 1, you can see them progressing and that’s nice. That’s why they are coming to our hockey camp.
“Either they have tryouts coming up or they want some ice time to network, to have fun and to work hard.
Gagne enjoys working with all four groups of kids, but he gets a special thrill being out there with the 10-12 year old age group.
“All the groups are great, believe me, but the 10-12 age group is just a little more advanced and they are just like sponges out there,” he said.
“They just want to learn and their skill level is a little higher.”
Group 5, with the four to six year olds, is the youngest of those who will be attending the camp.
“At that age, the kids know how to fall but they learn how to stand up and the techniques for going forward and bending their knees, the fundamentals,” Gagne said.
“Then put a stick in their hands and give them a puck and with 15 or 20 minutes they are not even paying attention to their skating anymore. They are doing it without even having to think about it. At that age, we really just want to teach them the fundamentals.
“They play some little games and they really enjoy it. It’s great to see.”
The majority — if not all — of the kids who will be attending camp likely recognize Gagne more for his current role as coach and general manager of the Rock as opposed to being a former NHL player.
“Let’s put it this way, at my age (54) even a lot of the parents don’t know that I played in the NHL,” he said, with a chuckle.
“Maybe some of the grandparents remember. Every once in a while you will get one of the kids who will say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you played in the NHL,’ but that’s OK.
“It’s good to be recognized as a coach. That’s what I have been doing for the last 15 years or so now.”
Gagne will have a number of current and former Rock players helping out with this year’s camp, although he isn’t quite ready to announce who at this stage.
Last year Rock goalie Logan Ferrington and defenceman Kealey Cummings were among the more popular instructors.
Following are the prices for attending the Gagne Hockey Development Camp: Group 1-2-3 $271.20 (HST included); Group 4 $146.90 (HST included); Group 5 $90.40 (HST included).
To register or for more information visit www.gagnehockeydevelopment.com, or call 705-267-2225.