TIMMINS - Paul Gagne watched from the sidelines, chatting with some of the kids as Dan Dube and Bruno Colantonio led a scrimmage on the ice.
There was clearly no shortage of Abitibi Eskimo connections at this annual week-long hockey camp for kids being held at the Whitney Arena.
Gagne, a former NHLer, is the long-time coach and general manager of the Eskimos of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL). Dube is his assistant on the team while Colantonio is a former player (2007-08 season).
Gagne has also brought in Alex Chandler to help out.
“We just signed him as our No. 1 goalie” for the Eskimos this season.
Chandler is there to offer tips and instructions to any young aspiring netminders attending the camp.
Gagne’s summer hockey camp continues to attract about 100 skaters every season. The players range in age from four to 15.
“We have kids this year from Moosonee, Kashechewan, Attawapiskat, Kapuskasing, Iroquois Falls, Matheson and Timmins obviously — so kids from all over,” he said. “They go on the ice twice a day and they’re able to keep their equipment in the dressing room, just like professionals do, so it’s kind of neat for them.
“There is an hour and a half of skills in the morning, and then in afternoon, they want to play. So it’s not as structured in the afternoon but there is discipline so they are playing three-on-three, four-on-four, whatever the situation is.”
Gagne said the focus is on basic skills and fundamentals of the game.
“Stickhandling, passing, shooting, receiving passes, skating backwards, pivoting — all these things and we explain why we use it. We’re doing drills, especially for the older group, and we explain to them why they are doing this drill, why they are pivoting, why they are facing the puck — it’s knowledge you have gained over the years that you are passing on.
“It’s great because when you do share your knowledge with them, they just look at you and they listen. They’re like sponges. At the same time they’re having fun because it’s not a pressure situation here. We just let them have fun but also give them some discipline and structure at the same time.
The players attending the camp have been divided into five groups based on age.
“The first three groups are ages seven to nine, 10 to 12 and 13 to 15,” said Gagne. “Then we included this year a goalie group. The goalies are all different age groups … Alex Chandler is doing the session for the goalies.”
The fifth group is a session for four to six year olds.
“Some of them can’t skate but it’s nice to see at that age, they’re all dressed up and their parents encourage them. We have a little teaching for maybe 10 minutes and that’s it and the rest is just have fun, just playing little games, three-on-three, stuff like that. It’s a good little program for them.”
The availability of ice at the Whitney Arena combined with the timing of the week-long camp has fit in well with Gagne’s role with the Eskimos.
“It’s nice because at the same time we have our mini-camp with the Eskimos at night, so it’s a perfect set-up. We’ve got the ice so may as well utilize it.”