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Christmas Hockey Camp returns for two days of fun

Christmas break hockey camp has been a tradition here in Jasper for as long as I can remember. That was until COVID-19 came along and hit pause for a few seasons.

It's been a challenge to get the ball rolling again, but our U7 team manager Jessica Worth seized the opportunity this year. She stumbled upon a relatively new skill development company called Next Level Athlete, and they agreed to come to Jasper over the Christmas break.

Next Level Athlete is owned and operated by Miles Valiquette. Miles has 15 years of coaching experience, ranging from U4 to Junior B. He has also been a scout for the AJHL and worked in a pro Euro training facility.

The Christmas camp ran for two days here in Jasper on Dec. 27 and 28, and not only covered Jasper Minor Hockey but also offered skill development for adults and not to mention a few players from other areas of Alberta as well.

The earliest crew being the U7's hit the ice at 8 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. both days. So much for sleeping in during the holidays, but that's nothing new for hockey parents. With only four players registered in this age group (six, but two were sick), Coach Miles was able to work individually with each player to ensure they understood each drill. Even still, at this age it's hard to keep their attention for long, so Miles was able to balance work and play. My six-year-old daughter's favourite part of the camp was when they played "toilet tag", but she's also excited to try out her new stick handling skills in her next game.

Next up, the U9's and U11's were grouped together at 9:15 a.m. and 2 p.m. There were 14 skaters and two goalies registered for this age, so Coach Miles had his hands full with this group. A little faster paced than the prior session, these kids worked on proper skating techniques, cooperation, stick handling, and did some fun drills that can be carried over into regular practice. The parents learned a thing or two just by watching. And even though this was a big group, Coach Miles was able to keep everyone's attention with his high energy and ability to keep it fun. Each session ended in a three-on-three scrimmage with a twist.

The U13's/U15's took the ice at 10:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. each day. They had 14 skaters and 1 goalie much like the previous group, and just as much fun. More than one of the players in this group were quoted saying "I really liked the drills" And another exclaimed "Coach Miles was really nice". The focus of this group was also stick handling and proper skating techniques, and while they may not have played toilet tag at this age, there was still a good balance of work and play.

By this point in the day, one can imagine that Coach Miles would have been due for a break. But not yet! At 4:30 p.m. each of the two days, five adults came out to see what they could learn.  One of the adults discussed with me how great the camp was for them. They said that they had never been taught anything about techniques before, and that the first time they played a hockey game, they stepped on the ice and played. But were never taught. Skill development is beneficial at any age.

All in all, the camp seemed to be a success for all ages. Hopefully Coach Miles from Next Level Athlete can come back again sometime, as there is always more to learn!

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