No state in the country provides its players with better opportunities to grow themselves through the game of hockey, both on and off of the ice, than Minnesota. And that well-rounded approach to player development shined this past week in St. Cloud at the CCM Minnesota High Performance Girls 14 and 15 Summer Festivals.
For the HP 14 and HP 15 coaches, developing good character was as paramount as building skills on the ice. The current and former high school, NCAA Div. I, and NCAA Div. III coaches leading the camps stressed it is attitude and being good teammates, as much as ability, that will advance players through their careers.
“Before you can be a good hockey player you have to be a good person,” Amber Fryklund, HP 15 Program Head Coach, said. “The character piece is important. Players have to understand what it means to be a good teammate, to work hard all the time, and have character in all they do.”
Bill McLellan, the HP 14 Girls Development Director, echoed that sentiment, adding that “character and skill go hand in hand” in hockey.
“The habits and traits that you use to succeed on the ice are the same as those off the ice— work ethic, compete, and discipline,” he said.
Fyklund, a Bemidji State’s women’s hockey assistant coach, stressed that college coaches seek attitude, academics, and ability—and the current NCAA players that worked as counselors for each 14 and 15 festival team drove that point home. They served as role models and demonstrated the character required to reach the highest levels of the women’s game.
Rachel Herzog, a former Hill-Murray standout who just completed her freshman season on the St. Cloud State blue line, was an HP 15 camper as a youth player and enjoyed the opportunity to pay it forward this year as a team counselor.
“You become a big sister to all of your girls,” Herzog said. “I was able to build personal relationships and really get to know my team. We became really close over the week and that was a highlight for me.”
The two all-encompassing summer festivals included off-ice conditioning and strength building, developing players’ mental games, and proper dietary and nutrition habits—in addition to the on-ice practices, skill sessions, and games—in order to foster the best comprehensive experience for the players.
“We live in Minnesota and not everyone has programs like we do,” Fryklund said. “These players have an incredible opportunity to develop.”
As the players left the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center Thursday afternoon, though, the two coaching staffs’ biggest hope was that each attendee was able to come together, meet new people, learn something, and develop their hockey skills along the way.
HP 15 Summer Festival (June 10-15)
At the heart of the HP 15 camp was a focus on competition as the attendees vied to be among those chosen to move on to the USA Hockey National Girls Select 15 Development Camp, July 8-12, in St. Cloud.
The festival featured a five-day round robin tournament between the six teams followed by a final day of championship games. In addition, the practices and skill sessions featured station-based drills and small area games designed to increase the compete level—which is vital for skill development.
“We wanted to create a fun experience for the players and have them learn and compete on the ice,” Fryklund said. “Compete level is something we talked about all week. Our expectation was to always be competing, whether it was in a drill, small area game, or a 5-on-5 game.”
The fruits of that focus were evident to Herzog, who noted the impressive growth in the girls’ game in the short time since she graduated from the CCM High Performance programs.
“The compete level has increased every year (at this camp),” she said. “Girls hockey players are bigger, faster, and stronger now year-to-year and the talent and skill has really increased.”
To round out the experience, the HP 15 players also had the chance to hear from a variety of A-list speakers each night at dinner—including USA Hockey Manager of Girls Player Development Kristen Wright and Minnesota women’s hockey head coach Brad Frost—who all stressed the importance of quality character and being a great teammate.
HP 14 Summer Festival (June 11-15)
The HP 14 festival made its debut this summer, and McLellan and his staff hoped to provide a new and different experience for their attendees—the driving philosophy for which was made clear from day one.
“F-U-N is the philosophy I look at for this age group—have fun and develop fundamentals,” McLellan said. “Kids stop developing when they’re not having fun, so we had to find some fun and creative ways to implement what we wanted to do in terms of developing their skills.”
One example of that approach included a 3-on-3 tournament, complete with CCM Hockey prizes for the winners, on the second day of camp to adjourn the normal routine of practice, skill sessions, and games and introduce a new form of competition.
“We wanted to break things up a bit and give the girls a rest,” McLellan said. “They got after it and really enjoyed it.”
The HP 14 participants also relished the chance to engage in a Q&A with women’s hockey legend Jenny Potter—a four-time Olympic medalist with Team USA as well as a former NCAA Div. I, IIHF World Championship, and Clarkson Cup champion—who preached the importance of a good attitude and hard work and controlling your work ethic to the star struck group.
Overall, McLellan believes the first-ever HP 14 festival provided its attendees with a valuable starting point as they work their way up the High Performance ladder.
“These girls got the opportunity to go through the camp atmosphere without having to be evaluated,” he said. “That way, when they come through next year as 15s, they’ll have already experienced it, and it will be a little more natural.”