NHL players make impact in area
Drag racers weren’t the only pros making an impact on the lakes area economy this weekend.
Players representing about 15 NHL teams were in the area participating in Minnesota Hockey Camp’s pro-am camp at the MHC facility on Clark Lake Road in Nisswa and Brainerd Area Civic Center.
The week-long camp is for contracted pros to condition and get ready for NHL training camps, players trying to get evaluated in an attempt to get an NHL tryout and college-bound players.
At one point, MHC officials estimated more than $32 million in NHL salary was on the ice.
“It’s been a few years, maybe since the (San Jose) Sharks (training camps) were here as a team where we get this many high-caliber individuals,” said Dean Grillo, MHC hockey director and player agent for O2K Worldwide Management. “In the past we always had the (Scott) Hartnells and maybe 6-7 guys. Now a few guys have jumped on board, who brought friends, who brought friends, who brought friends.
“Now you’re starting to hear some of the guys moving into the area. There was an old regime that lived here, the Tom Kurvers, Sean Chambers, Joel Ottos. Now we have this new wave of 25-30-year-old guys that are coming in here. They’re buying places, golfing, making their home here in the summers. It’s been pretty neat to see.”
Among the NHL players and draftees were T.J. Oshie and Chris Stewart, St. Louis; Hartnell, and Wayne Simmonds, Philadelphia; Joel Ward, Nashville; Anthony Stewart, Carolina; Derek Stepan, N.Y. Rangers; Clarke MacArthur, Toronto; Matt Bartkowski, Boston; Keith Ballard, Vancouver; Carl Sneep, Pittsburgh; Brad Malone, Colorado; Chad Genoway, Minnesota Wild; Emerson Etem, Anaheim; John Moore, Columbus; and Brett Hextall, Phoenix.
“I think it’s really neat all these guys are here because all these young kids really look up to these guys,” Brainerd Warrior boys hockey coach Jim Archibald said. “They watch them doing their dryland training, and their on-ice stuff. I think it’s a testament to these guys, to how hard they work, to get where they are.
“This is good for the civic center, it’s good for Brainerd, it’s good for our hockey association.”
Sneep, former Brainerd standout defenseman who played on two NCAA championship teams at Boston College, has spent many summers at MHC.
“This week is just great, getting out on the ice with so many NHL players, high-caliber players,” he said. “It’s just basically get as much experience as possible right now, get as much practice against guys like Oshie, the Stewart brothers. All these guys, every day, it’s just getting me ready for training camp, and the upcoming season.”
Sneep, who played for the Penguins’ Wilkes-Barre/Scranton minor league affiliate, will play in a rookie tournament early in September in Canada. After that he leaves for Pittsburgh and training camp with the Penguins.
“I’m keeping my hopes up,” Sneep said of making the NHL club, “but it’s a pretty hard lineup to crack. Most likely I will be back where I was.”
Ballard, another two-time NCAA champion while playing at Minnesota, became an area summer resident last year and was attending his first MHC camp.
“I love the camp,” he said. “It’s a high-intensity environment. There are a lot of great players here, that’s one side of it. The other is just being in the area I love. I’ve got a place in the area. There’s no better spot to spend the summer and I really enjoy it here. You get the best of both.”
The Vancouver defenseman played in 65 regular-season and 10 playoff games as the Canucks advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals.
“I think it’s going to be a good season,” Ballard said. “We’ve got a good team in Vancouver. I think, individually, each guy is training hard and getting ready hopefully for another long playoff push.”
Grillo met Ballard for the first time last week.
“He said ‘This place is awesome, I can’t believe it’s five minutes from my house,’” Grillo said. “He’s one of those guys who built a home gym and didn’t know (about MHC). Guaranteed, from here on out, he will at least do his workouts and skate the last couple weeks like this every year.”
MacArthur, who had 21 goals and 41 assists and played in all 82 regular-season games for the Maple Leafs last season, doesn’t know of an offseason location better than MHC.
“They do a great job here,” he said. “The last two seasons I’ve had great starts. Whether that’s because I’m here and getting in better shape, I don’t know, but obviously if something’s working I’m not going to switch it. There’s no reason you’re not going to be in shape leaving here.”
Mike Bialka, sports editor, may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.