Hockey camp a cool break

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Cody Fritz and Charlie Smith sat on a concrete pillar just outside the newly completed addition to the Howelsen Ice Skating Arena on Tuesday dressed in shorts and T-shirts.

As the 12-year-olds chatted on their makeshift bench, it was hard to imagine that their conversation drifted too far from the sweltering August day that stretched out in front of them.

That is, unless you happened to notice a fairly good sized roller bag, stuffed with hockey skates and sticks, that sat on the curb just a couple of feet away.

"It's really good to get back on skates," Smith said. "This is a great camp, and it's a great way to get back into hockey."

For the past three days, Smith and Fritz have gotten a break from the summer heat, participating in the Gold Medal Hockey Clinic.

Boston College coach Tom Mutch is leading the clinic with help from Olympian Laurie Baker and former prep hockey star Ryan Dingle.

Baker was a forward on the USA Women's Olympic Hockey team and competed at the Salt Lake City Olympic Games in 2002. Dingle played prep hockey in Steamboat Springs for several years and now is pursuing a career as a professional in the minor leagues.

Clinic organizer Dan Haggarty said he thought the coaching staff made this camp one of the strongest in Colorado. He said it's a great chance for area players to learn important skills and for players from outside the area to discover Steamboat Springs.

"I definitely want to see this camp grow in the future," Haggarty said. "I think this staff will keep things fresh and exciting."

Haggarty said the camp was about the same size as last year and most of the players came from Steamboat. However, it also includes players from Craig, Yampa, Telluride and Rock Springs.

"We want to make sure that the camp challenges the players, but the main focus of the camp is having fun," Haggarty said.

Mutch said the camp is laid back compared to those he runs on the East Coast. But that hasn't stopped the young players who have come out this week from learning skills to improve their game.

"It's nice," player Matt Dawes said. "It's not just work, work, work."

Dawes said the coaching staff play games in the middle of drills to break things up and keep it fun. The campers also skate around tires instead of the normal orange cones, which helps make this camp different.

Baker said she has seen dramatic improvements in the level of play in the first three days of the clinic, which continues through Friday.

"These players are quick learners," Baker said. "They are improving every day."

Baker now coaches at the Lawrence Academy, a prep school in Massachusetts.

She said she has been impressed with the way the Steamboat skaters have progressed this week -- especially when you consider that most of them have not been on skates since last spring.

"My skates really hurt my feet on the first day," Fritz said. "But it only lasted one day. It feels great to get back on skates."

-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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