The Evolution of Development Camps
It's easy to believe that the NHL doesn't change, that what little progress is witnessed in the game is the result of a slow, evolutionary crawl rather than revolution, rapidly spreading throughout the league. However, the game does change and the operations surrounding it do as well. Recently, there's been a greater focus on diet and training, typified by former NHLer Gary Roberts' summer training camps for current NHLers. The technology of hockey has improved in recent years; composite sticks offer players more precise flex patterns and greater power and accuracy in shooting, making wood a thing of the past.
But it's not just individual players and equipment manufacturing which changes. Team development camps are another such example of changing hockey operations over the past decade. In 2002, the Senators held a 9-day development camp. It featured 6 sessions of on-ice training, 5 sessions of unspecified off-ice training, 4 sessions of treadmill skating, 2 on-ice goalie sessions, two 3-on-3 tournaments and one team activity. The 2003 camp featured much the same schedule as the previous year with one addition: an afternoon autograph session.
2007 saw several changes to the annual development camp schedule. For the first time, the camp media guide lists that all on-ice workouts and the 3-on-3 tournaments were open to the public. Two sessions of yoga were added in addition to the regularly scheduled 4 off-ice workouts. A specialized healthy eating and cooking seminar, taught by experts, was new to the schedule. Yoga and healthy eating were still on the schedule in 2008. Dragon boat racing was added as a team building exercise and a vision training session with Dynamic Edge Sports Vision Training Centre was a new edition to the 2008 camp.
In 2010, a 5-on-5 evening scrimmage was added to the final day of camp. This addition included a meet-and-greet reception between players and season seat holders at the Bell Sensplex. The success of the evening scrimmage and meet-and-greet in 2010 ensured its inclusion in 2011. The 2011 camp featured several new developments such as vision training for goalies, a "Champions" talk with Denis Potvin and Todd Nicholson, a four-time paralympian, and a defensive focus presentation led by Luke Richardson. Other inclusions: the vaguely titled "biochemistry presentation" and an ominously labeled "outdoor adventure" team building exercise.
A = on-ice workout; B = off-ice workout; C = biochemistry presentation; D = 3-on-3 match; E = 5-on-5 match; F = nutrition & food prep; G = outdoor adventure/team building; H = defense presentation; I = "champions" presentation; J = Camp length; K = Meet & Greet/Autograph session; L = Staff #; M = vision training; N = skating treadmill; O = on-ice goalie workout; P = Yoga; Q = open to the public
What does this illustrate? Ottawa's development camps have evolved from relatively simple, introductory camps to complex multi-purpose events. Originally, camps were held so recent draft picks and prospects could meet coaches and workout as part of an internal evaluation program. Today, the annual development camp is a week-long indoctrination into all aspects of club life. The expanded staffs of recent development camps reflect an organizational push to ensure the methodology employed in the NHL is used in the AHL. Coaches and assistants, video coaches, and the athletic therapist of the Binghamton Senators now attended the camps as well, ensuring a united message is delivered to all prospects. Initiatives such as yoga, biochemistry sessions, nutrition seminars, and healthy cooking classes illustrate an increased concern on players' overall health, a growing trend in pro sports. Team building exercises and "Champions" presentations help future teammates bond and indoctrinate players about the "Ottawa way" - the club's expectations on and off the ice. In the future, I wouldn't be surprised to see organizations such as the "You Can Play Project" take part in this aspect of development camps. Perhaps seminars such as "Acceptable Use of Social Media" will be added to next year's camp.
Development camps aren't just for prospects anymore; they're also for the fans. The annual camps have evolved into a marketing and branding event for the team. Opening all on-ice workouts, including 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 tournaments to fans makes the team more accessible. Additionally, this event usually takes place at the beginning of summer holidays for most school-aged children, allowing many kids to get a closer look at players wearing Sens jerseys than is usually possible. The meet-and-greet sessions that have been added in recent years are an opportunity to market season tickets; the chance to meet prospects is available only to season seat owners. The marketing and branding opportunities are important to the club, as evidenced by the staff members who have been added to the development camps over the past few seasons: a communications director, communications coordinator, communications and publications assistant, and a director of fan and community development. Previous development camp staff directories were comprised solely of hockey operations staff.
It's likely that Ottawa's annual development camps will continue to evolve in the coming years to meet new challenges in the game and ensure there is no mistaking the "Ottawa way".