MONTREAL – Schools across the city are on hiatus for the week, but class is still in session at the Canadiens’ inaugural March Break Camp.
The Habs have added a new initiative to a grassroots hockey portfolio that already includes a four-week summer hockey school, the annual Esso Minor Hockey Festival, Tim Horton’s Coaching Day and the LRF Program, which emphasizes the concepts of learning, respect and fun with every minor hockey team throughout the province. In partnership with Hockey Canada and McGill University, the Canadiens are now in the midst of the team’s first-ever march break camp at McConnell Arena.
“Our emphasis is on skill development, but hockey has to be fun. Kids won’t learn if they don’t enjoy it,” explained Canadiens manager of youth hockey development, Stephane Verret. “The kids are on the ice twice a day with Hockey Canada’s lead on-ice instructor, Joey DeLiva, and his team, in addition to off-ice work we do with them. The facilities here are amazing; we’re able to access the McGill gym and Fieldhouse for off-ice activities.”
|Campers visiting the Canadiens dressing room.|
Since the Canadiens summer hockey school is held at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard, Verret and his staff were looking for a way to make the camp more accessible for parents who live or work downtown. Conveniently, the central location is also just a few minutes away from the Bell Centre.
“It’s fun for the kids to be able to come here and see the press box and the team’s dressing room,” explained Verret, while giving the campers a tour of the Canadiens’ home base between ice sessions. “To be able to be in here and see where the players get ready for games is special for them.”
It also helped a few campers visualize how their own names will look when they’re eventually affixed to their stalls in the Habs room.
“This is my first time in the dressing room but I’m going to come back here soon. I’m going to be a Montreal Canadiens player,” confirmed seven-year-old future Hab, Luca. “I thought it was cool to come to the Canadiens camp. We’ve learned stick handling, stopping and skating. The best is at the end when we get to play games.”
Nearly 100 minor hockey players from Novice to Pee-Wee levels are taking part this week, including six girls – three of whom made the trek from France for the five-day camp. The Canadiens previously teamed up with Hockey Canada earlier this year to bring their skills camps on the road to the northern Quebec region of Nunavik.
“It’s important for us to support minor hockey throughout the entire province of Quebec, from Montreal and Brossard to Kuujjuaq,” mentioned Verret. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll see some of these kids playing for the Canadiens one day. When you’re talking about minor hockey, you’re talking about the future.”