For the past two weeks, hockey players from around the peninsula and the state have gotten out of the sun and onto the ice.
Although June is normally associated with barbecues and fishing, nearly 100 skaters have been taking to the ice at the Soldotna Sports Center, honing their skills and trying to attract the attention of big-time coaches from across North America.
As participants in the Mid Islands Hockey School's summer skills camp and summer showcase, they've been both coached and evaluated by some of the top hockey professionals in the game. Ranging in age from 8 to 18, the younger players attended the camps to improve their skills, while others came to show off their talent in an effort to get noticed by scouts and take their games to the next level.
One of those hoping to play at the junior hockey level in the near future is Kenai's John McGlasson. He attended both last week's showcase event and this week's skills camp, and said he's hoping his performance caught the attention of some of the scouts in attendance.
"I'd like to do juniors, hopefully," he said.
Camp director Brad Odegaard said Saturday that the showcase event attracted coaches from several NCAA programs, including the University of Maine, Wisconsin-Superior and Quinnipiac, as well as coaches from junior hockey teams in British Columbia. He said he believes those coaches were quite impressed with the level of talent available in Alaska.
"Overall, the feeling I got from the coaches scouting was there was a very nice pool of talent," Odegaard said.
Odegaard runs camps across Canada and the United States, and said Alaska's players are among the best he's seen.
"They're very serious about the game," he said.
The showcase attracted many of the top high school players from the peninsula, Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna valleys, and Odegaard said he expects to expand the event next year.
"There was only one or two kids from Fairbanks, but one kid from there came up to me and said, 'My whole team should be here,'" he said.
Soldotna's Sam Evanoff also attended both the showcase and the skills camp. He said he was one of the younger kids at the showcase, but enjoyed the competitive atmosphere.
"I like playing against the older kids," Evanoff said.
As for the skills camp, players said the best part was simply being able to get out on the ice after spending several months away from the sport.
"It's nice to get a little ice time," Evanoff said. "It gets your muscles used to working again."
McGlasson said he was most impressed with the amount of time he spent skating and agreed it was nice to get a good workout in.
"It was really good conditioning," he said.
Odegaard said the point of the skills camp was to give the older kids an intense workout, while helping younger kids learn the basics of the game.
"We start with more basic skills for the young tykes, then the middle age groups we work on checking," he said.
The coaching staff at the skills camp included former Boston Bruin Bob Beers, Fairbanks Ice Dog Sam Tikka and Randy Barker, the head recruiter for Wisconsin-Superior.
"They're all outstanding coaches," he said.
Odegaard said he definitely plans to return to the peninsula next year, and expects the camps to grow as word spreads gets out about the talent level in Alaska.
"Everyone was just very enthusiastic about the program," he said. "We'll definitely be back."
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