GALLERY: Youngsters hone their skills at camp

Timmins Rock forward Linden Spencer leads a group of campers through a drill during Day 1 of the 2018 Gagne Hockey Development Camp at the McIntyre Arena. Spencer is one of three Rock players who are instructors at this year’s camp run by former NHL player and Rock coach Paul Gagne. The four-day camp at the McIntyre Arena will wrap up on Friday.

Thomas Perry  – The Daily Press
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Dozens of youngsters, ranging in age from four to 16, took to the ice at the McIntyre Arena on Tuesday for Day 1 of the 2018 Gagne Hockey Development Camp.

Paul Gagne, a veteran of 390 NHL games and the former coach of the Timmins Rock, has been running the camp for a number of years.

His guest instructors this year include current Rock players Derek Seguin, Linden Spencer and Austin Holmes.

Seguin, a first-year instructor at the camp, can still remember his days as a happy camper at the hockey school.

“I came to camp back when I was in atom, or peewee,” he said.

“I kind of learned what Paul was teaching and put some of those skills into practise. Then, I started getting on with my older brother and started working on some stuff on my own.

“Paul has some really good skills that he teaches and he really gets to know the kids, helping them get to another level.”

Seguin doesn’t play favourites when it comes to passing on the knowledge he has learned int he game of hockey.

“Each of the groups has their own advantage,” he said.

“The little kids are obviously not the most skilled, but they are probably the most fun to talk to and joke around with.

“With the older guys, they start getting a little bit more competitive and you can hope and do the drills, start playing with them, pushing them.

“The groups are all fun in their own way.”

The players range in age from four years old to 16 years old, with group honing their skills during the morning sessions and the playing three-on-three hockey in the afternoon.

With the start of the Rock training camp (medicals on Aug. 19 and on-ice sessions on Aug. 20) less than two weeks away, Seguin admits it is a good chance to get a little extra skating in, as well.

“We are just instructing, but the more time you can spend on the ice, the better,” he said.

“This is a job, but also training at the same time.”

For Spencer, this year is his first time serving as an instructor at the Gagne Hockey Development Camp.

Unlike Seguin, however, he didn’t get a chance to take part in the camp when he was a youngster.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t have a chance to travel far,” said Spencer, who hails from Eastmain, Que., a small community with a population of about 800.

“Back home, all we had was house league hockey. That’s all.

Being a Native, Spencer was pleased to see so many First Nation hockey players taking part in the Gagne Hockey Development Camp.

“There are so many First Nation kids around here,” he said.

“They are all interested in how I got to play for the Rock, how I made the team and stuff. I just tell them I worked hard every day.”

There is one skill in particular that Spencer has developed to this point in his hockey career that he has enjoyed passing on to the youngsters attending the camp.

“Edges,” he said.

“I like speed, so it has to be edges, turning and moving your feet.”

The Rock lineup has featured at least three First Nation players over the years, including Spencer, defenceman Jared Hester and forward Marcus Blackned-Rabbitskin.

Like Seguin, Spencer will be entering his second season in a Rock uniform when training camp rolls around.

“I can’t wait,” he said.

Isaac Felsher, an 11 year old who played for the Porcupine Storm last year, is one of the first-year students attending the Gagne Hockey Development Camp and he was enjoying himself on Tuesday.

“We learned a lot about skating on our edges this morning,” he said.

“We learned a lot about turning, puck control and skating backwards.”

Speed is the one thing Felsher is hoping to focus on during the four-day camp.

He thinks it’s “really cool” to get the chance to meet Gagne and three current Rock players.

Twelve-year-old goalie Abigail Pooley, who has relatives in Iroquois Falls, travelled all the way to Timmins from Peterborough for the third-straight year to take part in the Gagne Hockey Development Camp.

“I really learn a lot at this camp,” she said.

“It has helped me keep getting better every year.”

Unlike some of her fellow campers, Pooley isn’t focused on an single part of her game this year.

“I just want to work on everything,” she said.

Given all the equipment she has to wear to stop the puck, it is only natural that Pooley — like the majority of the goalies at camp — finds the skating drills to be most challenging.

“When they ask us to skater faster, it is hard,” she said.

“Skating is important for a goaltender. You have to go in and out of your crease really fast.”

Gagne, who has not been on the ice since last year’s camp is encouraged by the level of talent displayed by this year’s youngsters.

“They are a really good group of kids,” he said.

“We are practically full, so it is really nice.”

The morning sessions are all about teaching the campers skills that will help them develop as players, but they all get to have a little fun in the afternoons.

“I like to watching them having fun out there,” Gagne said.

“That’s what hockey is all about. It is what we are trying to bring back to the game. Things shouldn’t always be structure, structure, structure.”

Now that he is no longer playing or coaching, the camp helps keep Gagne’s love of hockey burning.