OKANAGAN HOCKEY's DEFENCEMAN CAMP PROVIDES PLAYERS, AGED 11-17, THE OPPORTUNITY TO IMPROVE THE DEFENSIVE SIDE OF THEIR GAME BY TEACHING PLAYER’S SKILLS AND TACTICS REQUIRED TO BECOME BETTER AT THE POSITION.
“The camp is designed to work on the skills necessary for defenseman to compete at a high level,” said head instructor, Robert Dirk. “The three biggest skills we teach are skating, passing and stickhandling, with shooting being the fourth. We have a big emphasis on skating: transitions, pivots and agility. These days, the best skaters have to be defenceman. We run a lot of drills that incorporate skating, backwards skating, pivoting, and transitioning with the puck.”
Players attending the camp, which is offered in Calgary, Edmonton, Kelowna and Penticton, receive 2.5 hours of ice time a day as well as off-ice strength and cardio training, off-ice puck skills training and power skating.
The role of the defenceman has changed over the past decade or so. During the 80s and 90s blue-lines were made up of big, towering defencemen that weren’t necessarily the best skaters on the team. There weren’t too many players like Kris Letang or Erik Karlsson playing the position.
“The only guys that were like that back then were arguably the greatest of all time like Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey,” said Dirk, who spent 402 games in the NHL as a defenceman. “The position has changed the last 10 years due to all the rule changes. That’s why you are seeing these high-skilled players playing defense now that can not only skate, but have puck skills and shooting capability as good as most forwards these days.”
Another key value that is taught at the camps is positioning. With the days of clutching and grabbing a thing of the past, defencemen need to be positionally sound to ensure they are in the right spot at the right time.
“It used to be big, physical defencemen that crashed and banged and made forwards pay in front of the net,” said Dirk, who played for the Blues, Canucks, Blackhawks, Ducks and Canadiens over his 11-year pro career. “Now, it’s more about being in good position: stick on puck, body on body instead of looking for the big hit. It’s more of a positionally game now than ever.”
Although defenceman these days need to be able to skate and employ the same skills as forwards, they can’t remember what their main responsibility is.
“It always goes back to defence,” said Dirk. “We are called defencemen and our position is defence. Defence has to come first. That has to be the mindset of every defenceman.”
So, who would be the best example of a perfect defenceman in today’s game that kids could look at and learn from?
“The big two for me would be Duncan Keith and Shea Weber,” said Dirk. “Another one I am becoming really impressed with is Drew Doughty. We knew he was gifted offensively, but he is learning to be that shutdown guy as well.”
For more information or to register for one of the camps, visit the Defenceman Camp page!
In 2010 I was fortunate enough to play at the Okanagan Hockey Academy on the Midget Prep team. With coaches like Robert Dirk and Greg Holst it was an unbelievable year. I have to this day still never been on such a close-knit team. It was my first year of midget hockey and that meant a lot more travel. Playing in the CSSHL I got the opportunity to play in some pretty awesome spots. The league helped me learn to stay on top of school, which has helped me not only in college but also in junior. I was able to make an easy jump to junior and college academically with the help of Dave Nackoney, a guidance counselor at Penticton Secondary School who works with all the student athletes. To this day if I need anything he is always more than willing to help. It is the great staff that left such an impression on me, and made it possible for me to be where I am today.