On June 18th, Anaheim Ice will host the 4th Annual Ducks West Coast Prospects Camp, an event which brings coaches and scouts from the premier College and Junior hockey teams to California to watch LA and Orange County's best AAA prospects participate in a three day round robin tournament. Between games, the Camp invites a speaker, this year Paul Kelly of College Hockey Inc., to educate the players and parents about their opportunities at the next level. The Camp is the brainchild of Anaheim Ducks Assistant Coach Newell Brown, who wanted to provide a local resource for Southern California's hockey talent to receive the exposure they once had to travel all over North America to get.
"When I first came out [to California]," recalls Brown, "it was during the Lockout, and one of my jobs was coaching Bantam AA hockey. So I got right into the youth hockey community here and learned a lot about what parents go through, what players go through, the expenses, the challenges to put teams together, and going to Minnesota [for camps], going to Toronto [for camps], having to travel all over the place. It's a huge sacrifice. I just got to learn a lot about it, and one thing led to another, and we decided this would be really helpful for the kids, and that's why we did it."
The Camp is committed to giving back to the California hockey community, even offering to waive the already low registration fee for families that can't afford to cover the cost. And after three years of bringing the scouts to the kids, the Camp is paying dividends for its invitees, though Brown and Jeff Noviello, the Camp Administrator, are hesitant to name-drop their recruited alumni.
"The deal with the name-saying is that there's so much exposure and kids go to so many different places," Noviello cautions. "It's hard to pinpoint that this was the place that this kid was noticed by this person."
Still, with Camp regulars like Nicolas Kerdiles and Garrett Haar moving on to Wisconsin and Northeastern respectively, both schools well-represented at the first three Camps, it's hard to deny that the weekends they spent at Anaheim Ice raised their visibility in the eyes of their future coaches.
"I'll just give you an example [of how this camp has given California players an opportunity]," says Brown. "Vernon of the BCHL. The head coach and general manager from Vernon has come down here every year since we started. They've won the national championship two years in a row, and I believe they had four California hockey players on their team this year. And in previous years, they've always stocked their team with California players. Cory Kane is a kid that played hockey here, was involved with the Camp, and ended up going up to Vernon, and now he's got a full ride scholarship to Ferris State University in the CCHA. And now a lot of teams from British Columbia want to come down and watch. It's a copycat thing. Kids from California helped [Vernon] win [the title], so now all of a sudden, everyone's looking at California as a place to scout."
In terms of a prospect 'gold rush,' California is a particularly attractive mine, as it boasts an abundance of a valuable resource: the skill player. "The California kids have been known to be very highly skilled," Brown explains, "And I think a lot of coaches come out here because they want to improve the skill level of their team. Kids here are more offensively minded than a kid from Powell River, British Columbia would be. I think that has a lot to do with a lot of kids having roller hockey in their background. And, fact of the matter is, there's not a lot of teams to play around here, so they practice a lot. So the skill is high. And you can teach the other aspects of the game, defensive hockey and checking and all those types of things, but it's hard to tell a kid to score more goals."
As California players gain visibility in the hockey scouting world, perhaps the most telling sign of the Camp's success is the number of competing local camps that have opened in the past three years.
"It's become so competitive now," Noviello notes. "[During our first year], there might have been one [camp] that was a close competition. Now, kids can literally leave our building, get in a car, and drive to Vegas for another camp . . . I had a parent telling me a couple weeks ago that since they went to Nationals, every weekend there's a camp they can go to. So they have to pick and choose where they feel that their kid can get the best exposure. And a lot of times they come back to the number of coaches that we've had in our building on this weekend and the fact that they have seen some players getting picked up just from our Camps."
The College coaches that come to Anaheim Ice during Camp, coaches like Mike Eaves of Wisconsin and George Gwozdecky of Denver, do so with the implicit understanding that they came to see the best players that Southern California has to offer, not a cattle call of local talent. The new camps can't make them that same promise.
"We don't mass recruit," Brown emphasizes. "I hate to say that we're elite status, but we only send invitations to AAA level. That's the base of players that we're inviting to the camp. We want to keep our status as high as possible in the eyes of the scouts who come out here to watch [the Camp], so that when they're recruiting good players for Junior hockey, or when College coaches are here to watch potential recruits, they're seeing quality hockey, quality players and people they want to see in the future."
The new camps might have trouble committing to such a small, elite roster every year, because honestly, it's not much of a business model. But the Ducks West Coast Prospects Camp doesn't know any other way. The Camp was established to save kids money, not make money, to put California players on the map, not use the players to put itself on the map. The new camps might also struggle to emulate, or even appreciate, the informational aspect of the Camp. Brown and Noviello carefully select speakers to educate the kids on how to navigate the sometimes complex recruiting experience to get to the next level, thus making the Camp as much about helping them find their future team as it is about helping their future team find them. At the end of the day, there are a lot of new camps whose convenient location addresses the travel issues that Newell Brown first identified five years ago, but convenient location is the only thing they have in common with the Ducks West Coast Prospects Camp.
Ducks West Coast Prospects Camp website
Our complete coverage at the 2010 Ducks West Coast Prospects Camp Main Page.