USA Hockey’s Player Development Camps bring the best players in the country together to learn, compete, and develop on and off the ice every year. The week-long camps offer an opportunity for players to form bonds and learn from their peers from all across the United States.
However, the unique learning environment is not exclusive just to players. USA Hockey also invites some of the best up-and-coming coaches in the country to camps every summer.
Curtis Brown, a former NHL player and current head coach at the at the USA Hockey-BioSteel Boys 16 Player Development Camp, is behind the bench for the third time at a USA Hockey PDC, and he’s been involved in various roles every summer for over a decade.
“It’s such a privilege to be here,” Brown noted. “Player Development Camp is the title, but it's a coaches development camp too. There's nonstop communication, talking, learning, and listening that goes on amongst the coaches, and it's a very unique opportunity for all of us. When you go back home, you have so many more relationships and resources.”
This unique opportunity for coaches is one that can make a huge impact, both personally and professionally. For many, it leads to new friendships, new resources and people to turn to for advice, and an increased knowledge of the game.
Dana Borges explained that he has earned major opportunities down the road because of connections he made at USA Hockey Player Development Camps. Borges has served in numerous roles at Boys 16 and Boys 15 camps every year since 2015, such as being a team leader and a head coach.
This year, Borges has taken on a different role, replacing his spot on the bench to a view from the skybox above the ice at the Northtown Center at Amherst in Amherst, New York. Borges is an assistant coach for the upcoming Five Nations Tournament in August, and he is helping head coach Scott Paluch evaluate which players will round out the 2023 U.S. Under-17 Select Team roster.
“So last year, I made just a simple connection with Scott Paluch at Player Development Camps, and that led to me working on his staff this year,” said Borges.
Player Development Camps are highly competitive by nature, but with development of players and coaches alike at the forefront of camp efforts, coaches can harness that into healthy competition, with a shared goal of getting better every day.
“It's such a competitive sport that we play,” said Borges. “But you come here and you act as one. We’re here for one purpose. We're all here to make the players of our country better, and we get together and put our minds together for one week, and that brings you together as people.”
The teamwork and camaraderie does not stop when everyone leaves the ice. The coaches’ locker room at Northtown Center is a hub of activity and conversation every day from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., as jokes, hockey talk, and advice are shared over coffee and snacks. And when coaches leave the rink, it doesn’t stop on campus at Daemen University.
“Every day this week, there's been a large group of people playing pick-up basketball in the morning, that's awesome,” Borges added. “We all go play cards and hang out and have wings and pizza and then those conversations, those relationships, they can lead to next jobs or lead to friendships.”
The group of coaches is selected from all over the country and from a variety of positions, leagues and levels. The diverse backgrounds and experiences provide a unique opportunity for the staff to look at the game from a different perspective and collect new concepts and ideas from every level of hockey development.
Borges notes, “There’s a wide array of coaches, which is awesome. There are people here with such a veteran presence that have done this for 20-plus years. Those coaches are really exciting to be able to talk to and to learn and ask questions. Then there's a middle group, and then there's people, and I'm still relatively young, but coaches that are younger than me just starting and looking to get their careers going like I was, which is really exciting.”
The positive, collaborative energy around the facilities at Northtown Center are in large part a result of a shared love for helping players grow and compete.
Brown adds, “The coaches all get a blast out of going out there and seeing the players compete. Then you get to interact with these kids, hopefully giving them some belief, some encouragement.”
The culture amongst the coaches is reflected on the players they are educating, allowing everyone attending the camps to leave with new friends, memories, and positive experiences.
“You want to provide an environment that allows the players to be their best, and the only way that can happen is to help them feel good about themselves and give them confidence,” Brown concluded. “You also provide any small bits of information you can to help them have a great experience.”