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June 21, 2009

Prospects camp emphasizes college hockey opportunities

ANAHEIM - It’s nearly 850 miles from Anaheim to the nearest to the nearest NCAA Division I hockey programs in Colorado.

Over the weekend of June 19-21, a handful of college coaches (and junior scouts for that matter) came to California for the 3rd Annual Ducks West Coast Prospects Camp.

What they found were 120 of the region’s top players from birth years 1993-96 playing in a round-robin tournament format at Anaheim Ice.

“Geography plays a big role in hockey in California, and the costs to travel are big,” said Anaheim Ducks assistant coach Newell Brown, the camp’s founder. “We’re trying to bring the scouts to the kids, introduce the hockey world to all the talented players in California.

“Unlike some of the other camps, this one is geared more directly toward college and Junior A hockey.”

Participation numbers were down about 15 from 2008, Brown said. He anticipated a drop due to the economy. Thirteen California clubs plus JSerra High School were represented, and players from five other programs as far away as Kelowna, British Columbia participated.

The camp drew coaches and scouts from 20 colleges and junior programs, including the United States Hockey League, Eastern Junior Hockey League, British Columbia Junior Hockey League and Canada’s Central Junior Hockey League.

“There are a lot of good players in California,” said Providence College coach Tim Army, a former assistant coach for the then Mighty Ducks of Anaheim their first four seasons of existence. “This camp gives them information on the development opportunities available to them in the college game.”

Added Mike Bavis, an assistant coach on national champion Boston University, “We are all well aware of the players here. Some of the more skilled guys we see in Hockey East, in the WCHA are from California. They’re characterized by their style of play, the skill, the offensive awareness.”

The camp included a presentation for players and parents by Bill Wilkinson, a 37-year veteran of the NCAA coaching ranks, including head coaching jobs at Western Michigan and Wayne State. The presentation focused on NCAA eligibility requirements and recruiting guidelines.

A panel discussion and question-and-answer session followed. The panel included Army, Bavis, St. Cloud State assistant Mike Gibbons, Minnesota Duluth assistant Brett Larson (a former player-coach for the San Diego Gulls and player for the Long Beach Ice Dogs) and Scott O’Connell of USHL Central Scouting.

The panelists emphasized two advantages of college hockey.

The first, obviously, is the commitment to education. The second is the commitment to developing the player over the course of four years.

“This is a development contract,” Army said. “Say a player struggles as a freshman and sophomore, we will find a way to help them. (Colleges) do a good job creating an environment to help develop the student-athlete.

“You get an education in the process of developing as a player. So when you leave college, not only are you mature but you have a degree.”

Former Anaheim Jr. Ducks players Zealin Cronk attended the camp for the second consecutive year.

“This shows we have some talent in California,” said Cronk, a ’93 defenseman who played high school hockey this past season in Boston. “This is a good opportunity to play with skilled players.

“I always wanted to go the college route, so it’s cool to have this camp to gain more exposure.”

The absence of a Division I program in the state, or region for that matter, emphasized the importance of the camp to Zealin’s mother, Hariven.

“There are college opportunities, but they seem so far away for many players here,” she said. “This camp shows that there are opportunities in a sport they’re passionate about.”

And what if a Division I program came on the scene in California?

“The league that takes in a USC or a UCLA, with their name recognition, if that ever happened,” Bavis said. “It would be the start of a completely new dynamic in college hockey.”

 
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