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Full Circle: The growing industry of player-run hockey camps

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Each summer more and more players are giving back while becoming entrepreneurs

Alyssa Gagliardi signs a jersey at NWHL All-Star weekend youth clinic.
Michelle Jay

It’s no secret that the majority of players in professional women’s hockey wear many hats. In addition to their life on the ice, scores of players are teachers, nurses, engineers, and work in the sports industry. Many of them also wear hats as coaches and founders of their own hockey camps.

Of course, this is hardly a new concept. Icons Caroline Ouellette and Marie-Philip Poulin have been running camps together across Canada for years. But recently, more and more players have been putting on their entrepreneurial hats to create their own brands.

Bringing it home

Three years ago, NWHL All-Star Alyssa Gagliardi began her AG2 camps in her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina.

“It started pretty informally just with the junior organizations down there inviting me to help out with some camps and clinics,” Gagliardi told the Ice Garden. “And I’ve always wanted to kind of give back and help to play a small part in growing the girls game down in the Carolinas and Southeast area. So over the last few years it’s kind of evolved to AG2 hockey.”

With multiple weekend-long camps spread over the spring and summer, Gagliardi has a clear idea of a holistic camp experience. In addition to the on-ice aspect, campers also receive dry-land training, nutrition workshops, and are encouraged to set goals.

“You have to really focus just as much on the off ice, the mental skill, nutrition, workout technique, and hockey sense,” She explained. “So I try to bring in as much as we can. My goal is to provide on-ice coaching, but I’m really determined to bring resources and an outside perspective from really top-level female athletes to the girls down there.”

To help with that, Gaglardi has brought in a whole host of players for her campers to learn from — both in-person and via Skype. North Carolina native Colleen Murphy has helped out a lot. Meghan Duggan will participate in a question-and-answer session via Skype in an upcoming session, which is something that Kendall Coyne Schofield has done in the past. Jillian Dempsey spent a weekend in Raleigh coaching recently, and Blake Bolden will head down soon as well.

“It’s so fun,” Gaglardi said on having her teammates, and friends, in her hometown. “I think just to bring some some other players from outside the area, just getting their shared experiences and perspectives. I think anywhere you go you kind of get caught in a little bubble of the same. So to bring a different voice or a different angle to think about things is really powerful.”

Overall, the entire process has been a learning experience for Gagliardi, but one that’s been supported by the youth organizations. They have assisted in planning weekends, sharing information, and even scheduling their events around AG2 camps. She credits the small, but growing community for helping her camps grow and be successful.

“It’s been really cool to see how we have girls now coming from Virginia or Florida for this camp,” the defender shared. “So, it’s been pretty cool to see it spread a little bit.”

Gagliardi’s goal for her campers reaches beyond the ice.

“Most importantly, I think a big part of it is just building confidence in an athlete and knowing that there’s things that they can control off the ice to help take their game to the next level and compete with anyone in the country,” she explained to The Ice Garden. “If they want to set a goal, they could play prep school or college or beyond.”

You can find more information on AG2 camps on Twitter or their website.

Encouraging young girls

Recently re-signed Boston Pride defender Mallory Souliotis is gearing up for her first weekly camp with Mallory’s Hockey Clinics. Her tag line: train like a girl.

Based in Acton, Mass., Souliotis wanted to make a space for girls to feel comfortable at summer camps. “Growing up playing hockey and going to hockey camp, I was always one of a few girls or the only one, and it was intimidating going to a camp of all boys,” the Yale alumna told The Ice Garden.

“With my camp I am hoping to attract mostly girls such that we eliminate that intimidation factor of being the only girl, but I am keeping it open to boys as well,” she continued. “It’s really a shame that there aren’t many girls hockey camps, especially when I was growing up, I would have loved going to camp with all girls.”

Souliotis wants her campers to embrace the concept of training like a girl.
Al Saniuk

Her trainers at Total Athletic Performance brought up the idea of having her lead an off-ice strength and conditioning camp for girls, but that wasn’t enough for the Yale graduate. “I was inspired, and I took it a few steps further and made it a weekly off-ice training and on-ice clinics.”

Souliotis’ vision materialized as a six-week summer camp. “There are a lot of tournaments and showcases during the summer, so if we can work on something each week and help them improve any aspect of their game, hopefully it will help them do well in any tournaments over the summer.”

The gym has provided a lot of help to the first-time camp leader, giving her the time and space to run her camps. She worked with her local rink for the ice time, as well as reaching out to her hockey community through a survey to see what the interest level looked like.

“A lot of it was on me to put everything together, set up a website, come up with the survey, etc. which has definitely been stressful at times, but I know it will be very rewarding working with the kids this summer,” the second-year NWHL defender said.

On the ice, Souliotis will have some help executing her vision at camp. She’s bringing on Pride teammate Kaleigh Fratkin and former high school teammate and former UNH player Devan Taylor. “Both Devan and Fratty are great hockey players with Division 1 experience, they will both be great role models for the girls, but above all they love to have fun.

“She [Taylor] reached out to me to see if I needed any help, and I was very excited to have her on board and help out on the ice,” Souliotis continued. “She’s great with the kids, tons of fun, and is very excited to join me this summer.”

The camp will split up by age group since Souliotis is opening it to a wide range of ages. On the ice, players will work on individual skills. “My goal is for the kids to have tons of fun, but also work hard and improve their game,” she said. “The summer is tough with hockey being a winter sport, so I am hoping to just get the kids out there, have some fun, and try to keep from getting too rusty.”

The camp’s off the ice aspects are geared specifically for young hockey players. Souliotis hopes she can instill good off-ice habits for the young players. “The off-ice aspect is designed to introduce younger girls to the gym and get them started with working out, and learning some basic concepts that are crucial to becoming a better hockey player. And for those who have worked out before, I am looking to use hockey-specific movements and drills that will have a direct impact on their play on the ice,” she explained.

“Overall, we are going to have tons of fun, learn some stuff, and play some hockey.”

You can find information about her camps at Mallory’s Hockey Clinics.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Another first year camp is OneThree35, founded and coached by the goaltending trio of Katie Fitzgerald, Kimberly Sass, and Sarah Bryant.

“We had been thinking about the idea for a while, since this was going to be the first summer that we were all staying in the area,” Fitzgerald said in an interview with The Ice Garden. “As time went on, it became a more realistic opportunity for us as we began reaching out to Barnabas Health Hockey House and figuring out what we needed logistically.”

They saw the camp as a way to stay connected, not just to each other, but also to their local fan base and supports. “Whether it’s fans who continue to play in adult leagues or young kids who come through the autograph line, we wanted to find a way to stay connected to this incredible community that has embraced us and supported us. What better way than to do that on the ice together?” Fitzgerald said.

All three goalies have coaching experience, but they found creating and running a camp to be a “learning experience.” They sought out advice from players who have experience in this, including Gagliardi, and had help from Barnabas to set up the dates and times. “And my brother is helping us make a new logo because, let’s be honest, he is the true artist in the family,” Fitzgerald joked.

The group is set to run six standalone sessions through the summer, all designed specifically for goaltenders. “At OneThree35, our main goal is to instill confidence in goalies as they enter into their season, whether that be youth hockey, college, or adult leagues.”

To that end, the camp is open to all ages, from youth players to adults. “We realized the impact we could have to help goalies at not only the youth level, but also adults who often find it hard to find clinics such as these. Most are hosted for kids only.”

The camp will feature both on and off the ice instruction, working campers on a variety of skills. “We will be helping goalies build a foundation and add to their toolbox of power skating, specific save techniques/fundamentals as well as situations that may arise. [Like] being able to read and react with different saves/skills to best handle each situation,” the former NWHL Goaltender of the Year explained. “We will also be doing on and off ice vision training to help strengthen eye muscles! And obviously having fun while we do it!”

Fitzgerald stressed how important building confidence will be for their campers. “Whatever we can do to give them confidence going into the season, even if it’s just having fun and laughing on the ice, we want to help them find whatever piece they’re looking for.”

Find more information on OneThree35 at their Twitter.