Steamboat Springs Yampa River tubers welcomed another warm afternoon Thursday, taking to the river in droves.
But as hot as it got on the water, things remained ice-cold at the nearby Howelsen Ice Arena. And there, too, area youth swarmed over everything.
The arena played host through the week to a summer ice hockey camp, with skaters ranging in age from 8 to 18 working up a sweat under the guidance of some of the area's best hockey minds.
"This is the best hockey instruction that's available in the Rocky Mountains," said Erik Blase, the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association's director of hockey. "That's one of the big draws for the camp."
Blase said establishing a Steamboat-based hockey camp was one of his top priorities once he got the SSYHA job last fall. As the son of USA Hockey's director of coaching programs and a former manager of U.S. Olympic teams, Blase said he knew he had an inherent advantage when it came to lining up top instructors for his envisioned workshop.
In the team of coaches that rolled into Steamboat, he said he had everything he had hoped for.
Retired NHL veteran Jim Johnson led the group on Thursday, still concentrating on the basics four days into the camp.
"The main thing is try to provide a great skill development camp," said Johnson, who spent 13 years in the NHL. "We want to develop the base fundamental skills. If you can do that, the kids can have great success. They feel good about themselves and what they can accomplish.
"We've accomplished that. Some of these kids have great potential to be hockey players down the road."
His roll wasn't just to drill the hockey fundamentals into Steamboat's youth. Blase said another of the camp's goals was to teach the youth coaches proper drills and routines to craft sound skaters.
"This is probably more important for our coaches than the kids," Blase said. "The main purpose is to get kids on the ice, have them learning some new drills and skill development, but we're trying to change the focus of our coaching to more skill development, and it's the coaches that will carry that on and continue teaching it."
The camp was split into two sessions Thursday, the older group featuring 18 athletes. It wasn't quite the attendance Blase said he had hoped for, but it was a good place to start. He didn't try to expand the camp beyond local players in its first year, instead concentrating on attracting all interested Yampa Valley players.
In the future, Blase said he hopes for a more robust group, featuring players from across Colorado's mountain region.
"Next season, these kids will all be better off," Johnson said. "We're hoping to grow this in Steamboat Springs, so we're hoping this is just a start. Still, it's a pretty good turnout for the first year, and we think with word of mouth about how much these kids have developed, we can build on it."
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