Where else can you finish off a week of camp with a car-selling cook guest referee for scrimmage, a water balloon fight, snacks and prizes? At Vernon’s popular summer Gare Hockey Camp, held at the end of August at the Okanagan Training Rink.
“This is the sixth year of the not-for-profit, fun and skills-focused hockey camp,” said manager Carly Gare, whose husband, Grady is head instructor. “I run it so cheap and the kids get so much. As hockey gets to be more expensive and elite, we pride ourselves on providing a lot at a very affordable price.”
This year’s camp featured 14 players in the U15 age group from Vernon and Lake Country.
“Now in U15, there’s an introduction to body contact at the rep level so we’ve been working a lot on that this week,” said Grady after a session. “We’re getting them comfortable with giving and receiving hits, and working on their puck skills, shooting and passing.”
Helping out during the week was Mike Burke, as power skating instructor, and Parker Davis, as goalie instructor. Former NHL star Jerred Smithson of Vernon also came out to work with the kids, which brought back memories for him of growing up and attending summer camp.
“The summer camps were to get in shape and get ready for the season,” said Smithson, who played minor hockey in Vernon before playing more than 300 Western Hockey League games with the Calgary Hitmen.
“I think the work we put out here with the introduction to body contact, I remember going through those skates and it was a real eye-opener for me, too. It takes a long time to master those skills but I think they’re heading in the right direction.”
Smithson, who also played in more than 600 NHL games with the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators, Florida Panthers, Edmonton Oilers, and Toronto Maple Leafs, loves giving back to the community.
“I love going out there with the different groups, whether its the young eight-to-nine-year-old kids or coming out here with Grady’s group, it’s just a lot of fun being out with the local hockey players.”
For Grady, seeing the kids’ improvement from the year prior makes instructing worthwhile.
“It’s neat coming back every year and seeing how the kids have progressed and how much bigger they all are,” he said. “We have quite a few kids now who are taller than their parents who are bringing them here.”
With (Culinary) Curt Jensen of Watkin Motors Ford – a former Winnipeg Parkland Rangers midget hockey standout – donning the striped shirt, the camp finished with a fun scrimmage. Nolan Wilson won the Player of the Week draw. Each day after camp, a hard-working player or goalie with a great work ethic and attitude was selected as Player of the Day, and given a Powerade. The five names were put into the draw for the Player of the Week gift basket, and the remaining names went into a draw for additional prizes.