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Winterhawks takes kids to school on ice

More than 120 youngsters take to the rink for Portland Winterhawks Hockey School

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Kids take part in drills during Winterhawks' Skate School program at Winterhawks Skating Center.When you’re young, the arena ice isn’t that far down.

As young hockey players wearing the red and white and black of the Portland Winterhawks sped through drills during this week’s Hockey School at the team’s practice facility in Beaverton, they frequently slid to the ice.

But each one who fell popped right up and continued following looping patterns, using their sticks for balance while turning on the slick surface at the Winterhawks Skating Center in the Valley Plaza.

This week’s annual Portland Winterhawks Hockey School summer camp attracted more than 120 youngsters, most from close to Beaverton and Portland, but others from as far away as Alaska and Texas.

“It’s sold out every year,” said Graham Kendrick, the team’s media and public relations director who helped organize the camp and signed up his own sons. “It’s a blast.”

“There’s a lot of hockey, more hockey than most camps,” said Wyatt Carroll, 10, who lives near Cedar Mill and has been playing the sport since he was 3.

“I’m all right,” said Wyatt, who like many of the campers is a member of the Portland Jr. Winterhawks and hopes to eventually rise into the professional ranks. “I work hard.”

Plenty of Wyatt’s peers at Hockey School also raised their hands when asked if they want to go pro, but camp organizers acknowledge that the odds of a professional hockey career are long and emphasize that’s not the goal of the summer program.

Associate Coach Kyle Gustafson said the camps keep interested kids playing hockey during the summer.

“We just want to make sure we’re growing the sport,” said Gustafson, who is helping lead the camp before the Portland Winterhawks get ready to open their season in September. “The Junior Winterhawks have done a phenomenal job with these kids.”

“We’re not trying to grow NHL players,” Kendrick added. “Basically, at the end of camp, we want the players to be better than what they were, and to have fun.”

Hockey School campers are as young as 5, but they aren’t newcomers to ice skating and most have played at least a year of organized hockey.

“This isn’t really for kids who have never skated before,” Kendrick said.

Each age group has two daily sessions on the ice, as well as off-ice sessions including skills and fitness training, video presentations and guest speakers. The cost is $370, on par with many types of summer day camp programs, Kendrick said.

“They make us work hard and it’s fun because I’m learning some stuff,” said Braydon Givens, a 7-year-old Beaverton resident who hopes one day to play for the Winterhawks and move on to the NHL, just like his namesake, veteran pro Braydon Coburn.

On Tuesday, the guest speaker was Sgt. Eric Bunday of the Hillsboro Police Department, who also works with the Winterhawks. He spoke to campers about character, integrity and teamwork, and cautioned them about the importance of protecting their reputations, whether at the rink or on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

“It’s really hard to get through life with a bad reputation,” Bunday said.

Campers will end the week on Friday with live hockey games, complete with play-by-play from Winterhawks radio announcer Todd Vrooman, a Tualatin High School graduate whose father also was a team announcer.

Gustafson said the camps also provide an opportunity for those team members and alumni to work with kids for a week.

“They want to come back and do this,” the coach said of the dozen current and former team members who return during the off-season to work at the camp. “I don’t have to beg them to come back.”

Beaverton resident Calvin Butler, 14, likes several sports and doesn’t envision a career in professional hockey. But he has relished the experience, especially getting tips straight from the pros who work with them during camp.

Last summer, former Winterhawk Ryan Johansen - now with the NHL’s Nashville Predators - showed Butler a shoot-out move during camp.

“It’s definitely improved what I can do,” Butler said.