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Happy Campers

When coach and general manager Paul Gagne surveys the action on the ice at the McIntyre Arena during the evenings this week he envisions the players who will make up the 2011-12 edition of the Abitibi Eskimos.

The Iroquois Falls-based Northern Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League team is conducting its training camp in Timmins.

When the former National Hockey League player looks out on the ice during the days, however, he sees players who could be prospective Eskimos five to 10 years down the road.

The Gagne Hockey Development Camp, now in its seventh year, offers instruction to players from four to 19 years of age.

It is designed to hone the skills youth require to excel in the hockey world.

More than 100 youngsters are currently taking part in the camp.

And who better to teach them the game than Gagne, who played for the Colorado Rockies, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders during an NHL career that spanned from 1977-2001.

During that time he played 390 games and wracked up 211 points.

“I’ll be leading five groups of kids on the ice today with three of my players and a goalie coach,” Gagne said, during a break from the on-ice sessions.

“There is a 7-9-year-old group, the 10-12 group, a 13-16 group, a 17-19 one and a 4-6-year-old group.

“I’m doing this mostly to give back some of my knowledge to the hockey community.

 ”We are really a hockey camp for the early birds. The ice just got put in and is fresh, so we’re breaking it in.”

Players of all skill levels are taking part in Gagne’s camp this year.

Seven-year-old Autumn Walton has only recently started skating.

She is one of the 33 kids in the 7-9-year-old age group taking part in the camp.

“This is her first year of hockey,” said Autumn’s dad, Lyle, as he watched closely from behind the glass.

“She is slowly learning what they’re trying to teach her out there.”

“It’s nice because the instructors aren’t giving up on her and are giving her extra help with the drills that she’s having trouble with.

“That’s making her enjoy the experience more, I think.”

Gagne and his team of assistants were excited about the talent level of the youth on the ice.

They were confident that there will be no shortage of players for future Eskimos teams.

“We were talking after the first group, and we agreed we saw some incredible talent,” Gagne said.

“Kids here seem to love the game of hockey so much.

“If they keep working hard and putting in the time, there could be some future junior players in the groups, who knows.”