So – you’re a hockey parent? Congratulations! Hockey is such a fun sport – fast action, great skills, team-based and lots and lots of very smelly, expensive gear….
An annual tradition for many hockey families, like ours, during the summer months, is a hockey camp. Hockey camps are usually a week or so in duration and are sometimes day-based and sometimes sleepover. They generally consist of a combination of on and off-ice activities, often broken into 60-90 minute slots. Sometimes they have a specific focus – maybe a skating skills camp to work on power and speed and edgework, or a ‘battle’ camp, where kids learn techniques to be successful in puck battles. Then there are others run by colleges and prep schools, often designed to give an aspiring player a taste of the experience and the opportunity to work with the program coaches – and others still organized by the community relations departments of NHL teams.
For the past couple of years (2018 & 2019), our son has attended Blackhawks Hockey Camp – held at the Chicago Blackhawks practice facility (Fifth Third Arena – formerly MB Ice Arena), just across from the United Center in Chicago.
Why should your child attend a hockey camp?
- It’s an opportunity to work on skills in a concentrated format
- Your child can meet new kids from other programs, who all just love hockey
- They get to work with different coaches and thus will do different drills / get different feedback
- It’s a fun, traditional summer activity format and camps often include other activities too
- It breaks up the monotony of a really long school holiday
- Combine a family vacation with a summer camp for your kids
How is the Blackhawks Hockey Camp organized?
The camps generally run from 9am – 2.15pm, Monday to Friday. They include 2 off-ice activity slots and 2 on-ice sessions per day. They can provide lunch, or your child can take their own.
Coaches are varied and include current and former professional and college players and coaches. Because this camp is organized via the Blackhawks fan development function, there are often also guest coaches, including current and former Blackhawks players. The cost of the camp for the years our son attended is approximately $600, excluding lunch. The ice sessions are blended between skills and power skating, and small area games. They have a big game day on the final day of camp.
How old do kids have to be to attend and how many kids do they accept?
The camps are open for ages 6 to 13 and they usually denote by birth year. There were 2 groups of kids (split into younger and older kids) for both 2018 and 2019. The main groups were then split into 5 sub-groups, consisting of around 8-10 kids per group. Places are allocated on a first come, first-served basis. If you apply within a couple of days of the registration opening, you are likely to get a place.
What level of player is Blackhawks Hockey Camp aimed at?
The camp is aimed at all skill levels. Our son was in the older group, and since he is on the older side now, (12) and about to start AAA hockey this season, he’s probably reached the top of the skill level of hockey drills. The drills though are well run and will benefit most players, if not all.
What do they need to bring?
Kids need to bring their full hockey gear and a mouth guard. They will also need workout gear and clean trainers for some of the gym spaces. They will be provided with a camp jersey and usually a T-shirt.
Will they meet Blackhawks players?
Maybe! The camp generally includes some guest coaches and speakers. Last year the kids had Eddie Olczyk as a coach, Jamal Mayars stopped in, as did Brandon Saad. Our son and a few other kids with him spotted Alex DeBrincat working out too, and he was happy to sign their jerseys. This year the kids had Brian Campbell, Denis Savard and Troy Murray join them on ice, and met the new Blackhawks draft pick, Kirby Dach. Both years, Olympic champion Kendall Coyne joined them for power skating sessions. There are no guarantees and you never quite know, but, since the Fifth Third Arena is the Blackhawks practice facility, there is a reasonable chance of player spotting.
It’s probably best to leave the player interaction to the kids though – remember the players, if they’re at the rink, are usually there to work out, or to meet with the kids as part of their job.
Do they provide lunch?
Yes! There is a lunch option, this year it cost $10 per player, per day, and you can choose the days you’d like them to provide it. The lunches are usually quite healthy – offering a variety of food, e.g. meatballs with zoodles (zucchini noodles), tacos, or chicken with veggies. They always have a dessert option – usually cookies or fruit. For those with food allergies, they can generally accommodate gluten and dairy-free diets. Our son has a dairy allergy and ate with no problems. The only hiccup we had was on pizza day, but the kitchen just prepared him some with no cheese, which is how our son prefers it. You also have the choice to send a packed lunch with your child.
What’s the arena like?
It’s awesome! Brand new in 2018 and well-equipped. There are classrooms and workout facilities, plus 2 rinks that host camps, practices and other public skating activities. It also has a bar area and a Dunkin Donuts, as well as concessions with the usual hotdogs and chicken strips. One word of warning – the rinks themselves are cold for spectators – take a blanket or wear warmer clothes. They also have free wifi if you’re a remote worker and want to get some work done when your child is at camp. Parking is in their own lot and free.
Should I leave my kiddo there, or hang out?
Most parents, in our experience, drop their kids off – a lot looked like they were heading to work. Some stay and watch for some or all of the day – although many of those seemed to be remote workers, so were usually nursing a cup of coffee and working at their laptops (free wifi, remember?!).
We did a combination and took advantage of the 5 minute walk to the bus stop and headed downtown to explore, then came back with enough time to catch some of the last ice session. If you’re travelling to Chicago for this camp and it’s a mini-vacation for you, it’s a good use of $5 in bus fare! Explore the city – walk around Grant Park, visit Navy Pier and generally take in the sights. (You’re going to want the #20 bus)
The Fifth Third Arena is just around the corner from the United Center, where the Blackhawks play their home games. If you’re looking for the mother of all merchandise stores, head over to the Madhouse – and in the summer we always find great deals!
Swag! In our 2 years, the camp leaders had cool free swag for each day – lunch boxes, stickers, sunglasses etc.
This is such a fun camp experience – it’s well-organized, great value and perfect for any aspiring Blackhawk! Blackhawks Hockey Camp is something your child will never forget.
For more information – click here!
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Disclaimer – This review is my honest opinion on our experience and I did not receive any form of compensation for its creation.