By @MichaelCaples –
PLYMOUTH – From May 12-15, some of the top young goaltenders from across the United States were in Plymouth for the ninth annual Warren Strelow National Goaltending Camp.
The Strelow Camp, taking place at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth for the first time, featured guest speakers like Jeff Blashill and John VanBiesbrouck, presentations from goaltending equipment brands and on and off-ice education and training for the goalies.
It’s all one big happy family when the goalies – members of ‘Goalie Nation’ – get together.
“We started calling USA Hockey goaltending ‘Goalie Nation’ and to have the nation together, it’s awesome,” said Phil Osaer, USA Hockey’s American Development Model manager for youth goaltending programs and a Livonia native. “You can tell it’s fun for the goalies. The equipment presentations – that’s something young goalies love – and the coaches getting together, you just can’t get enough of it. It’s great to have playoff hockey going on and discussing the position and what’s new and what’s changing, what worked and what didn’t work for guys over the year, guys coaching pro hockey, college, juniors and some guys are coaching with youth goalies as well, so it’s pretty cool to see all the different ends of it. We get so excited to talk about the position.”
Friday’s featured speaker was Blashill, one of the founding members of the Warren Strelow group. A former goaltender for Ferris State, the Detroit Red Wings head coach has stayed true to his goaltending roots, and he gave a motivational speech to the group of 30-plus young netminders.
“I think it’s a great, great opportunity for them to have exposure – exposure more in a sense of being exposed to some of the elite goaltending minds in the United States,” said the Sault Ste. Marie native. “I think they’ve compiled a great staff here and for these guys to get the opportunity to learn from them and hopefully take away some tidbits to grow their game in the future as quick as next year is awesome.”
Photos by Michael Caples/MiHockey
Blashill shared examples of goaltending situations he has overseen with the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Red Wings to paint a picture of what it takes for a goaltender to truly be ‘elite.’
“I think it’s a great opportunity to be able to talk to these young guys, especially my message today is the things that it’s going take for them personally to reach their maximum development,” Blashill said. “And I think it’s important to have a perspective… outside people that have seen guys do a great job with it and guys who have maybe left themselves a little underdeveloped.”
Ron DeGregorio, co-chairman of the board for USA Hockey after stepping down as president in 2015, was impressed with both the new facilities in Plymouth – the Strelow Camp was one of the first events to be held inside the recently-completed construction project at USA Hockey Arena – and how much the camp has grown over the years.
“It’s great, it was 2007 when we first began and since then, you know how well we’ve done in advancing our high-performance goaltenders in terms of performance,” said DeGregorio, a founding Strelow member. “It’s great for the kids because they get to meet others who are aspiring to be the best they can be, but the information we’ve given them, from improving their vision to how that vision affects them in playing the game, too, not only the techniques but the little things within those techniques that can make a difference. I just think that gives them more motivation to continue, as long as they still love the game, which they do because they’re here and they keep on working at it.
“Also, what I love about this is we’ve also told them, ‘You haven’t achieved anything.’ And the players understand that because a question was asked, ‘Do you feel you’ve achieved something being here?’ No one raised their hand, which was great. Then the question was, ‘Would you feel you achieved something if you were in the seventh game of a Stanley Cup Playoff,’ they raised their hands, so their priorities are in line.”
The goalies were put through rigorous training during their stay in Plymouth, as camp organizers aimed to give them as much information and guidance as possible.
“These guys are scouted all year, they’ve been identified, and this camp, the idea is to bring them in, bring in some of our best coaches from around the country, and have them work with the goalies so they get different perspectives – which is the reality in goalie coaching – and develop every aspect of their game,” Osaer said. “We’ve worked on things from their work ethic to their fundamentals to their off-ice, mental approach, vision, we try to all-encompassing help our goalies develop. These kids are identified as our next goalies, coming up through the system, so we want to give them every advantage possible going forward.”
Osaer also said it’s important for the goaltenders to be with their peers – fellow ‘tenders that will push each other to improve.
“Elite is born out of competition, so for these kids, they’re probably all very good where they are, for them to be able to go and stand next to somebody who is at that same level and they’re able to work and push each other, we think that’s great,” Osaer said. “It’s an awesome environment, it’s great for camaraderie, see the guys cheering for each other when they do good on the ice and there’s that aspect of the national pride, everyone here understands what that crest means on their jersey. Some of them have had the opportunity to wear it in a game, some haven’t, but we know they are all striving for it, so to have them all here, especially at the new facility here, it’s pretty special.”