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Kids practicing like the pros at Walleye camp

08/07/2014, 1:00am EDT
By MARK MONROE BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Walleye coach Derek Lalonde, right, lays out directions for a drill to a group of youth hockey players during a session on Wednesday at Huntington Center. THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

Excited chatter filled the Toledo Walleye locker room on Wednesday afternoon as dozens of young players sat in the same stalls as their pro hockey heroes.

More than 60 youth players are participating in the Walleye's week-long summer camp at Huntington Center. Walleye coach Derek Lalonde is heading up the camp for players ages 7 to 14.

“What I hope to get out of it is giving back to the community,” Lalonde said. “We're very fortunate that this team is so significant in this community with our fan support. This is a chance to give back.”

Mohammed Shaheen, a 14-year-old from Bowling Green, is participating in the camp for the second time. The young forward said he has made new friends.

“It's great being coached by the Walleye staff,” he said.

The youngsters are given full access to the team's facilities, including the players' locker stalls.

“This is pretty cool,” Shaheen said. “It feels like you are playing for the Walleye.”

Assistant coach Dan Watson worked with the 7- to 10-year-olds, while Lalonde trained with the older group (11 to 14).

“I hope they take away one to two good little tricks or sayings, something new,” Watson said. “I hope they remember it and get better at it. And I want to make sure they are having fun and loving the game so they continue to play.”

Watson said they treat the players like they are on a pro hockey team. Walleye trainer Brad Fredrick treats any bumps or bruises and equipment manager Dave Aleo sharpens skates.

“They are getting what a pro hockey team would look and feel like in a kid environment,” Watson said. “They get to sit where [Walleye captain] Kyle Rogers sits. That's an added benefit.”

Rogers and forward Alden Hirschfeld, a Sylvania native, also are helping out. Young goalies also have the opportunity to improve their skills during goalie camp led by former Walleye head coach Nick Vitucci, an ECHL hall of fame goaltender.

“They get excited about the guys,” Lalonde said. “Alden has been to camp like this in this area as a youth. He's a great example of a local boy that went through a similar system. Now he's living out his professional dreams.”

The week-long $325-per-player camp includes 15 hours of ice time during morning and afternoon sessions. Players get a Walleye camp jersey as well as two tickets to a Mud Hens game.

The instruction includes power skating, shooting, passing, and stick-handling drills along with video analysis and individual work.

Lalonde said he ran a similar camp at his last coaching stop in Green Bay. He said skill development is emphasized during a well designed week. The first step, he said, is building from fundamentals, and those get incorporated into actual game competition.

Aaron Dickstein, a 15-year-old from Dayton, is serving as a counselor at the camp for the second straight summer. The goalie is working with the young netminders.

“I like being on the ice,” Dickstein said. “I know a lot of these kids now and I like to see them getting better.”

This weekend, the Walleye organization will hold its annual free agent camp. A total of 80 players who hope to make the team's roster will participate in the two-day tryout session.

This is the sixth year the team has hosted the free-agent camp. The Walleye's training camp opens on Oct. 2.

Contact Mark Monroe at:

mmonroe@theblade.com,

419-724-6354 or on

Twitter @MonroeBlade.

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