‘Bubble’ hockey camp in Deerwood wraps up summer without COVID cases
Olympian Steve Jensen, co-owner of Heartland Hockey Camp in Deerwood, believes his youth hockey camp was the only summer hockey camp in the nation that did not have a reported case of COVID-19 due to the camp’s precautions, the remoteness of the location and playing hockey in a “bubble.”
Olympian Steve Jensen knows a thing or two about facing adversity and overcoming challenges on the ice rink.
The co-owner of Heartland Hockey Camp in Deerwood used that tenacity to keep his and his wife’s annual summer hockey camp for youth going amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“As far as summer hockey camps, we were the only ones that I know of that operated in the entire country. ... I don't know of any other camp in the country that operated,” he said.
What started out as a figure skating camp has become a hockey camp and summertime fun destination that attracts children far and wide.
“This summer, we started on June 21, and we went 49 consecutive days until Aug. 8,” he said. “We had 572 kids from all over the country. … We limited the number of kids coming to our camp (this summer).”
Up close, personal
All campers receive up to six hours of ice time each day. The two-hour morning session is dedicated to individual skill development and the two-hour afternoon is focused on team play and group tactics, and all campers can participate in the open hockey session in the evenings.
The 80-acre campus “in the heart of Minnesota’s vacation land ... is the only self-contained, privately-owned hockey camp in the world,” according to Heartland Hockey Camp’s owners.
“We took numerous precautions to prevent the spread of COVID,” Steve Jensen said. “In early June, we made it mandatory that everybody coming onto our property wore masks. Back in June, nobody was wearing masks until the governor gave an executive order.”
“We split our normal enrollment by 50%, so we had way less kids at our camp. We normally have over 1,000 kids every summer. This summer, we limited it and had a total of 572 kids, which obviously gave us the ability to create more social distancing on the campus,” he said.
The camp’s amenities have traditionally included a dry land training center, a soccer field, rink-side condos, cabins, treehouses, apartments, classrooms, shooting range, tennis court, dining hall, pro shop, private beach, dormitory and more that campers’ families can enjoy.
“We created a new protocol of new exit and entrance regulations into all of our buildings, which include the ice arena, the fitness center, the dining room and the dormitory,” he said.
The Minnesota Department of Health was asked if there were any reports of the coronavirus related to the facility.
“We do not have a report of any outbreak — multiple cases occurring at around the same time that are reported to us — at this facility,” Minnesota Department of Health spokesperson Doug Schultz said about Heartland Hockey Camp.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported Thursday, Aug. 20, another 698 cases and seven deaths from COVID-19. More cases — and any linked to the Deerwood camp — is exactly what Jensen has tried to avoid this summer, and he believes he has succeeded.
In addition to the exit/entrance plan to reduce the possibility of potential contamination, Jensen said they modified or built four new locker rooms in the ice rink to give the campers the ability to properly social distance while they were putting on their hockey gear.
Jensen was a member of the 1976 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team who led the team in goal scoring with 52 goals in Innsbruck, Austria. He took that same determination and applied it to finding ways to keep the camp open safely, such as modifying the food service in the dining room.
“Rather than have the kids come up and grab their plates and the silverware and their cups, our entire staff got engaged with the food service by wearing gloves and masks. And we served the food … so there was less potential of any contamination in the dining room,” he said.
The tranquility surrounding the camp “enhances each camper's concentration level and also intensifies the level of everyone's awareness and appreciation for the wonderful wide variety of fun-filled recreational activities and world-class hockey instruction,” according to the Jensens.
“We also built 12 new dorm rooms in a dormitory, which provided more sleeping space for the kids and provided again the opportunity for the campers to properly social distance while they were in their dormitory rooms,” he said.
Jensen said the camp’s snack bar, pro shop and miniature golf were closed this summer to prevent clustering of campers and contamination of surfaces by a potentially infected individual.
“We took the campers’ and the staff’s temperature twice a day. … We kept a log and a chart, and we were very vigilant. Anybody that had a temperature of above 99.5 was taken immediately to the clinic,” he said.
Playing in a ‘bubble’
“While our campers were on the ice, they were not forced to wear masks. … There were instances where the kids were in close contact with each other while they were playing and training. … But nobody else uses our rink but our campers. It’s all privatized,” Jensen said.
Jensen said the precautions Heartland Hockey Camp has taken to keep summer hockey campers healthy coupled with the camp’s remote location helped keep everyone safe.
“We created a bubble. You’re seeing it take place now with the NHL and the NBA … and that’s exactly what we did before anybody else even thought of that. We created our own bubble at our camp,” he said.
The 2020 NBA Bubble was created by the National Basketball Association, for example, to protect its professional players from the pandemic but still have a season. Teams were invited to Walt Disney World to compete, and teams, players and staff were kept isolated from the public.
“We limited the number of people that could come onto our grounds … into our dining room … our ice arena … our dormitory … our fitness center that were not campers,” he said.” We created a safe environment by establishing our own bubble.”
FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .