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Summer School on Ice

Elite Hockey Camp Gives Women a High Intensity Workout

  • Kathy Creighton, of Bridgewater, Conn., right, and Jennifer Neal, of Redding, Conn., participate in practice drills last week during an Elite Hockey Training Camp women’s clinic at Thompson Arena. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Kathy Creighton, of Bridgewater, Conn., right, and Jennifer Neal, of Redding, Conn., participate in practice drills last week during an Elite Hockey Training Camp women’s clinic at Thompson Arena. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jamie Hagerman, a former Harvard University and U.S. Olympic player, diagrams a practice drill last Friday during the Elite Hockey Training Center’s women’s clinic at Thompson Arena. A dozen women participated in on- and off-ice skill development sessions and strategy talks. In the background are Katherine McCandless, left, of Bradford, N.H., and Karen Boushie of Jericho, Vt. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

    Jamie Hagerman, a former Harvard University and U.S. Olympic player, diagrams a practice drill last Friday during the Elite Hockey Training Center’s women’s clinic at Thompson Arena. A dozen women participated in on- and off-ice skill development sessions and strategy talks. In the background are Katherine McCandless, left, of Bradford, N.H., and Karen Boushie of Jericho, Vt. (Valley News - Tris Wykes) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kathy Creighton, of Bridgewater, Conn., right, and Jennifer Neal, of Redding, Conn., participate in practice drills last week during an Elite Hockey Training Camp women’s clinic at Thompson Arena. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)
  • Jamie Hagerman, a former Harvard University and U.S. Olympic player, diagrams a practice drill last Friday during the Elite Hockey Training Center’s women’s clinic at Thompson Arena. A dozen women participated in on- and off-ice skill development sessions and strategy talks. In the background are Katherine McCandless, left, of Bradford, N.H., and Karen Boushie of Jericho, Vt. (Valley News - Tris Wykes)

Hanover — Todd Bebeau, the longtime coach of the Hartford High boys hockey team, peeled away from a drill at Thompson Arena on Saturday. Behind him swirled a dozen women — average age 52 — engaged in an Elite Hockey Training Center practice session.

“If only my guys listened this well,” Bebeau said. “These ladies are serious.”

Serious about fun, that is.

Midway through a weekend of on- and off-ice instruction, Bebeau’s bunch showed no signs of slowing down. Legs may have been burning and minds jam-packed with nuances of the game, but each women’s clinic participant had paid more than $300 for just this sort of icy immersion.

The level of play may not have been high, but the passion shown was intense.

“I had an absolute blast,” a beaming Bebeau said, after stepping off the ice. “I was most impressed by the intelligent, creative questions they asked. They know what they want to get accomplished here and they’re outspoken about it.”

Bebeau, also a Hanover High physical education teacher, and the rest of the Elite staff spend a couple months each summer putting youngsters from ages 5 to 17 through their paces, both at Dartmouth and at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt. Counselors and coaches enjoy those day camp and residential sessions because of the kids’ enthusiasm and boundless energy, but by the time August approaches, they welcome the chance to work with the women.

“They’re like sponges, and they listen to every single word anyone wants to tell them out there,’’ said camp director Patti Crowe, a Hanover High graduate and former UNH player whose father, George, served stints as coach of the Dartmouth men’s and women’s teams and founded Elite in 1986.

“Many of them play but haven’t had much, if any, formal coaching. I’ve had women tell me they learned more here in two and a half days than they learned in three years of just playing games.”

Last weekend’s clinic included women from New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York. They enjoyed four on-ice sessions totaling about six hours, several off-ice sessions devoted to stickhandling and shooting and a handful of “chalk talks” unmasking hockey strategy. Meals at a local restaurant and two nights’ stay in a Dartmouth dormitory were also part of some clinic packages.

Whereas Elite’s child campers are sometimes distracted, cranky or enrolled by parents desperate for some peace, the women skaters exhibit a laser focus, mixed with good humor and gratitude toward their instructors. Laughter sprinkles the proceedings, but skating strides, shooting strokes and positioning are all examined and broken down in detail.

Early on Saturday afternoon, at the blacktop shooting range behind Thompson, former Hobart College player and current Kimball Union Academy Jayvee coach Bryant Harris detailed the mechanics of a wrist shot for a half-dozen women.

“I like you to have your knees bent so if you were asked to jump, you could do it right away,’’ Bryant said, demonstrating the crouch he wanted shooters to assume before and upon release. “If you’re standing straight up and down, you can’t jump, can you?”

A split second later, 54-year old Maureen “Moe” Locker of Williston, Vt., suddenly crouched, jumped and fired. The puck banged off the large, plywood cross hanging from the goal’s crossbar as Locker’s peers and coach broke out in laughter.

“We’ve revolutionized shooting!” exclaimed a grinning Bryant, his arms upraised.

Locker was paired on the shooting range with Anne Brewer, a family practice doctor from Manhattan. Brewer said she played on one of the country’s first women’s club teams while a Brown University undergraduate in 1967, recalling that she had never seen a live hockey game until she participated in one. She now skates with a women’s team called the Westchester (N.Y.) Wildcats.

“We take this seriously in terms of trying to get better, but I’m 64 and the chance of experiencing vast improvement is pretty slender,’’ said Brewer, who may have moved slowly on the ice, but who fires off a heavy shot when she gets the chance. “Some of the women who are newer to the sport seemed tentative in the beginning, but this camp is very low key and no one is screaming at you.”

At the next shooting station over, Jennifer Neal, a Redding, Conn., veterinarian and mother of 5- and 8-year old kids, said she came to Hanover after teammates on the Danbury (Conn.) Battle Axes women’s team recommended the clinic.

“It’s a personalized experience,’’ said Neal, adding that she’s played hockey for two years. “It’s also a real treat for me to get away. I think sleeping in the dorm is fabulous, because there aren’t dogs barking or children getting you up in the middle of the night.”

Katherine McCandless, a 42-year old Bradford, N.H., resident and Kearsarge High science teacher, said it was her son’s hockey playing that drew her to the sport. She thought it looked fun, but also wanted to share some of what he was going through in practices and games.

“I didn’t want to live vicariously through my son,’’ she said. “You’re up there in the stands yelling ‘Get the puck!’ but you don’t do that after you have to try to do it yourself.”

McCandless said she was heartened to find her fellow Elite skaters to be at roughly the same talent level as herself. She was also impressed by how the coaches didn’t lower expectations for effort and understanding, despite the players’s relative inexperience.

“As a teacher, I appreciate the high standard that’s been set,’’ McCandless said. “The coaches are phenomenal. I was blown away when they introduced themselves and their backgrounds.”

The leading resume belonged to former Harvard player and 2006 U.S. Olympian Jamie Hagerman, who conducted the clinic’s opening ice session Friday night. The younger sister of former Dartmouth player Casey Hagerman, Jamie attended Elite camps as a child and has returned frequently as a counselor and coach during the intervening years.

Much of Friday’s session was devoted to skating and Hagerman guided the women through the mechanics and form of their strides during half-speed trips up and down the ice. The explanations might have been a bit more thorough and conducted at a slightly slower pace, but if an observer closed their eyes, they likely wouldn’t have been able to guess whether Hagerman was instructing novices or accomplished players.

“They just need to learn how to use the power of their legs and get low to the ice,’’ Hagerman said. “But it’s so unnatural when you just started skating on a 1/4-inch blade a few years ago.”

Hagerman is part of a generation of women players who have never known a lack of gender-specific equipment or been relegated to 11 p.m. practice times. For them, there have always been traveling teams, advanced coaching and NCAA Division I playing opportunities. That realization inspires Hagerman to instruct women her mother’s age, when she could be coaching college or national team prospects.

“They want it so badly and there’s so much to learn, and that’s a perfect combination,” Hagerman said. “Once they let go of the fear of how much they have to take in, they really start to learn. They have to be OK with fumbling and falling and getting up and realizing, ‘Hey, I can try this again.’ ”

Brian Cibelli, a former teammate of Harris’ at Hobart, worked with the women’s players on stickhandling Saturday afternoon. The drills were conducted with small, hard rubber balls on the smooth concrete of Thompson Arena’s concourse. It was an exercise foreign to those who hadn’t attended the clinic before, and the participants’ furrowed and sweating brows attested to their concentration.

“They’re not here to prove anything, they’re just very curious,’’ said Cibelli, who now teaches English and coaches hockey at the Kent School in Connecticut. “I don’t find it odd at all. I find it really cool.

“Trying something new as you get older can be tough. So it’s great to see them out here, pushing themselves.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.