Last week the Chicago Blackhawks hosted their annual Prospect Camp for their draft picks, free agent invitees, and up-and-coming players in their system. Prospect Camp takes place at Johnny's Icehouse West, the Blackhawks' practice facility, which is just down the street from the United Center. The event is open to the public, so being the rabid Hawks fan that I am (who is in severe offseason hockey withdrawal), I went to go check it out.
Upon entering the viewing area at Johnny's Icehouse West, I was immediately met by this:
He is an intimidatingly large and towering
goalie, especially when viewed up close.
Johnny's Icehouse allows fans to view the action from behind the glass right at ice level. It was by far the closest I'd ever been to a hockey goalie in playing mode. I stood right behind Brandon Whitney and took in the view from his perspective (pucks coming at you in all directions at lightning-quick speed). It was unbelievable to see the reflexes that these guys have to have in order to play the game, and how scary it is to have pucks, players, and sticks flying directly at you.
Here are some action shots taken from ice level:
|Getting instructions on the next practice drill.|
|Lining up for one of the practice drills.|
|Goalie tandem stretching out while watching shootout drills.|
|Practice drills in motion.|
|2012 Blackhawks First-Round Draft Pick: Teuvo Teravainen.|
He reminds me of Patrick Kane in the sense that they
both have slight builds, but are very skilled and quick.
I am very used to watching hockey from the nosebleed seats in an upper deck. When viewed up close, you realize how unbelievably fast the players and the puck are moving at any given moment, how physical the game is, and how loud it is when the puck or the players hit the boards. I was close enough to see the expressions on the players' faces and saw how they were all truly giving their all for every drill. You could see how completely gassed they all were after each play. It was fascinating watching the team dynamics, the players interacting with each other and the coaches, and all the little details that go into a practice. It gave me a whole new level of respect for the level of athleticism, stamina, and willpower that these hockey players demonstrate.
I went upstairs to catch some action from the stands. I caught a few more drills, then got to watch a scrimmage game.
|Goalie drill where the goalies practice sliding from side |
to side in between some pucks laid out on the ice.
|The red team, playing on the "Home" bench during the scrimmage.|
|The white team, playing on the "Visitor" bench during the scrimmage.|
It was an exciting scrimmage game which ended up going into overtime and a shootout. Every time either team scored, the crowds in the stands and at ice level went nuts, just like at the United Center. All that was missing was the huge airhorn and the echoing rendition of Chelsea Dagger.
There was great people-watching at the camp, too. I got to see a number of the Blackhawks' front office members up close and personal:
|Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, aka "Coach Q"|
|Coach Q in action|
|General Manager Stan Bowman getting his daily potassium.|
(Isn't it great that there are rabid fans and their cameras who are
ready to catch ANY and EVERY candid moment on film?)
|CEO John McDonough in the stands.|
|Former Hawks defenseman Chris Chelios.|
His son Jake was one of the players participating in the camp.
At the end of the day's practice, some of the players came by to say hello to the fans.
|Brandon Whitney signing autographs. He chatted with the fans |
for awhile and posed for pictures. Seemed like a very nice guy.
(Sadly I didn't bring anything autographable, so I missed
my opportunity. =( Note to self for the future.)
I thoroughly enjoyed attending Prospect Camp. It gave me so much new respect for the players and the game - they are phenomenal, phenomenal athletes in every sense of the word. I also loved being surrounded by other rabid Hawks fans again. Prospect Camp was the perfect remedy for my off-season hockey blues.
Before attending the festivities, I thought that the collective player skill levels might be noticeably more junior compared to the official Hawks team members that you see at Training Camp Festival. I was very pleasantly surprised to see how incredibly, amazingly talented all of the players were. It blows my mind knowing that many, if not most of these guys, will be playing in the minors or in juniors next season as opposed to the NHL. Some guys are just going to be sent home afterwards without even getting to play in the minors or juniors. It really gives you a perspective for how elite and how competitive it truly is to play in the NHL. I can't even imagine what it would be like to watch NHL players in this setting.
I've been reading the book 100 Things Blackhawks Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die (great book, by the way). Attending prospect camp was on the list - and for very good reason! Next on the wish list is to go watch an actual Blackhawks team practice. Either way, I can't wait to go back to Johnny's Icehouse again to see more.
Just a few more months until hockey season starts!