'These kids, they just light up': Youth descend on Watson Lake for hockey camp with NHL players

Dozens of hockey players from Yukon, B.C., Alaska, and Alberta descended on Watson Lake this week, taking the chance to learn from NHL stars Eric Gryba and Mike Smith.

Camp features NHLers Eric Gryba and Mike Smith

Olympic gold medallist and NHL player Mike Smith with players at the hockey camp. He says the camps make an impact. (Dave Croft/CBC)

A popular hockey camp in Watson Lake, Yukon, has been a big hit with players and coaches.

The camp brought together 82 kids from Yukon, B.C, Alaska and Alberta this week. They range from eager youngsters to teens, all participating in a range of indoor and outdoor clinics over three days.

The remote community of Old Crow sent a delegation, including three boys and recreation director, Samantha Frost. Frost said the chance to leave the community for a few days, meet new people and get professional coaching was a wonderful trip for the boys.

"The best thing about coming down is gaining experience, with the coaches, and seeing these kids happy on the ice, having a good time, and just meeting new friends for life. It's great," she said.

Frost isn't a hockey player herself, but put on some skates and got out on the ice, spending a session talking with other coaches and shadowing coach Eric Gryba, who plays in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers.

Kids will have a chance to develop their hockey skills at the new hockey academy at Edgewater and Claude Garton Public Schools this winter. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Gryba said hockey has given him a lot, and he wants to share his knowledge with local youth.

"To come up here and give back is a fantastic feeling," he said. 

"These kids, they just light up, they see us and we talk to them and it's just, it's truly, truly rewarding and it's a positive experience for us and for them."

This year marks Gryba's first hockey camp in Watson Lake, but it's the second year that NHL goalie and Canadian Olympic gold medallist Mike Smith has joined. He was invited by organizer and local RCMP officer J.M. Sauve.

Smith, who was traded to the Calgary Flames in June, said he believes the first camp he attended, two years ago, had an impact.

"What I've really noticed is that the kids I saw two years ago obviously have grown, but have grown as hockey players and people," Smith said. "It's impressive."

From left, Teryn Kassi, Samantha Frost, Dredyn Kassi, and Jayce Charlie were the Old Crow contingent at the hockey camp. (Dave Croft/CBC)

Maddy Bonn, from Wembley, Alta., has also been impressed by Smith and how much interest he takes in the young people.

A keen hockey player, the 17-year-old said this is one of the best camps she's ever been to.

"They just really pushed us, pushed us a lot more than I've been pushed before," Bonn said.

"It just got me really inspired to keep going with my hockey career."

Bonn said she'd like to come back again to take part in the camp's coaching clinic, or even as one of the instructors.


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