I am nearly 51 years old and just attended my first hockey camp—the Ouellette Poulin Hockey camp in Montreal. Three years ago, I did not even know a hockey camp was a “thing.” I started playing hockey just about two and a half years ago, so I really had no idea you could go to a camp for hockey. I will get to it more later, but hockey camp is amazeballs.
MY HOCKEY STORY
If you haven’t read my previous article about my hockey journey, here’s a bit about me: I grew up in a suburb of Chicago and really loved hockey. I wanted to play, but my mom wouldn’t let me. In fact, she told me girls didn’t play hockey. Well, mom, times have changed. To be fair, though, even in the 1970s, I don’t know that I would have known about hockey camps. I don’t know that there were hockey camps. Most towns did not have year-round rinks; there was only one I knew of in the Chicago area during that time frame. In summer, people I knew who played hockey all winter did other things. They played baseball or soccer, swam, or enjoyed a summer just being a kid with the other kids in the neighborhood.
I learned hockey camps existed when I joined USA Hockey and started getting their monthly magazine. The back pages were filled with camp opportunities. The majority were for kids, though there were a few exceptions: Heartland Hockey in Minnesota and the Weekend Warrior camps come to mind. The few adult camps seemed to be geared towards more advanced skaters. I certainly wasn’t advanced… I was struggling to stay on my skates and off my butt. The thought of doing a turn on one foot using only an inside or outside edge confounded me.
After I had been skating for a year, I started periodically posting videos of my progress on my Instagram account. I saw that there were a lot of people doing so and they were getting good feedback from others with more experience. It seemed to me that getting some constructive commentary could be helpful. So I posted the videos, even though after seeing myself skate on video for the first time–I cried… And they weren’t tears of joy because I was doing something I loved.
They were tears of sorrow and anger, since I was so frustrated with my progress and how dumb I thought I looked. Nevertheless, I posted those videos and got some really helpful guidance. I also started to meet a lot of people who play hockey all over the world. Some of them were beginners like me (though none were as old) but it was helpful to know that others were having the same experience.
One of those people I met is a woman named Terri. She is from the Bay Area (where I now live) originally but now lives on the East Coast. She started playing hockey about 18 years ago when she was attending MIT. She told me about a camp in Montreal. It was a camp geared toward beginning and intermediate level WOMEN. It sounded pretty cool… and then she told me it was run by Caroline Ouellette (Caro) and Marie-Philip Poulin (Pou). I was like SHUT THE FRONT DOOR. She then reminded me that Caroline is married to Julie Chu, who also coaches at the camp.
Terri attended camp in summer 2018 and absolutely raved about it. In fact, she told me she learned a bunch of drills and things she had never learned before in her 17 or so years of playing (since this was a year ago). I was floored. She made some videos of some of the drills she learned and shared them on her social media account. I had never seen any of them either–not in any clinic I had done and not on YouTube (where I spend countless hours watching skating videos).
She messaged me in February or March of this year and told me the camp information was posted and available on the Ouellette Poulin Hockey camp website. I looked at it and thought long and hard before jumping in and signing up. Part of the dilemma was that I would have to travel from Northern California to Montreal… and another part was that I wanted my non hockey playing daughter to come to Montreal too. I figured it all out and made all the travel plans needed.
Ouellette Poulin Hockey Camp Basics
The camp was two days: Saturday and Sunday. About six weeks before the camp, we received an email with the schedule: 90 minutes on ice in the morning, a break, an hour of dry-land work, and then another 90 minutes on ice. There were descriptions of what each session would entail/focus on and information about what to bring. We also were told that in addition to Caro, Pou and Julie, other coaches would include: Charline Labonté, Ann-Sophie Bettez, Kim Deschênes, Cathy Chartrand, and Laura Stacey. There were players from the Les Canadiennes as well.
Plus, Julie and Caro coach at Concordia College and Pou works with players at McGill, so there were a lot of Canadian college players (and since I am unfortunately horrible with names, I cannot remember their names, though everyone was seriously amazing). We also received the instructions for using the parking lot–entirely in French. I emailed Caro and asked if there was an English version available. She said no. We had a couple more emails, and in the last one she promised me we would have fun.
As camp got closer, I became more nervous about everything from traveling with gear, to making the drive from Buffalo to Montreal, to finding the AirBNB, and being able to get around in a city where everything is in French. Never mind that I had no problems visiting plenty of other cities and countries where I didn’t speak the language, but something about this camp was different.
My daughter and I arrived in Montreal the Friday afternoon before camp started. Our friends from Toronto (my kid needed something to do) arrived about 30 minutes before us, and after catching up some, we went to a neighborhood market and then set off exploring Montreal’s Little Italy.
DAY ONE: CAMP BEGINS
The next morning, I woke up, had some coffee and yogurt and then packed up for camp (including my lunch, which we had to bring). According to our schedule, check in was at 10:15 (there were two groups, I was in group 2, so we were second on ice). I wanted to be sure to be there on time, so I left an hour before the report time… or so I thought. Report time was actually at 10:45 and I had left so early.
I arrived at the rink around 9:30. I checked in, got my jersey, water bottle and Ouellette-Poulin camp sticker. Mika, who oversees all things off-ice for Caro and Pou during the camp, told me to relax. She said I looked really nervous and I was. She told me the camp is super fun and that I could go and watch the skaters who were already on the ice for group 1. I also met my first fellow-camper–Nora. She traveled up from Cincinnati.
As I waited for camp to start, after having dressed and chatted with Nina, Nora, Brooke, Jennifer, Erin, Tandie and so many others, I realized how much time I spent living in my head–fearing the worst. Nina and her friend Camille really helped put me at ease–they both live in Montreal. They told me that Caro teaches a weekly adult clinic/class and that she is a great coach. She really wants everyone to have fun and try everything, to not make excuses and work hard, but also to support one another… And that ended up resonating the whole camp. That was the perfect description of Caro, Pou, Julie and every other coach there.
DAY ONE: MORNING ON-ICE SESSION
Camp started and we all went out for a short warm-up skate before Caro called us all to the center of the rink. She introduced herself and the coaches. She asked, “Are there any people here who understand no French.” My hand shot up, along with the hands of a few others. She said some long sentence in French and got no reaction from those of us with our hands up. She then said English will be the primary language used for the camp.
The goalies then went with Charline Labonté (to learn from a 3-time Olympic gold medalist). The skaters did some stick handling to warm up, grabbed a partner to do some passing, and then did some keep-a-way. We did a few different variations of this before dividing into two groups (about 18 skaters each): one lead by Pou and one lead by Caro. Pou worked with Laura and Ann-So. Caro worked with Kim. Julie was doing the off-ice work.
I was with Pou, Laura and Ann-So first and we worked on various stick handling drills, which were great. There were a few new ones for me, but we all got a lot of helpful feedback from all three coaches. It was here I got my first “Nice job, Lisa” from Laura and “great work” with a fist bump from Pou for the camp (there were many more 😊). I nearly melted, though it took me a minute to figure out how Laura knew my name before realizing, duh, it’s on my helmet.
After about 20-25 minutes we switched. My group went over to Caro’s group for skating fundamentals: including jumping for agility, c-cuts, inside edges, outside edges, riding on the neutral blade, and Mohawks. We ended the morning session with two different 3 v 3 games: the losing team had to either do push-ups or sit-ups. It was the coach’s (in my case, Pou, Ann-So and Laura) decision each time. Pou really liked sit ups, and my team lost every single challenge during the camp–so we did a lot of them.
We left the ice after the 3 v 3 (I was last to leave besides the coaches, since I was working on every bit of skating that I could). I also wanted to thank them all for hosting the camp. I was 90 minutes in and was already so thankful for making the journey and already planning my journey to the 2020 camp.
DAY ONE: AFTERNOON DRYLAND TRAINING
We went to get into our dryland gear and have lunch. During lunch, we had a talk from Pou who told us about how she started in hockey and progressed through the ranks to become the captain of tTeam Canada and have so much success. The answer? A lot of hard work and focus, plus (as she said) a lot of tears. Something in that statement gave me an incredible sense of gratitude for her honesty and vindication, since I am not the only one who cries.
Before talking about dryland, I feel as though I should talk for a second about Julie. Julie went to Harvard and played hockey there. She is a 4-time silver medalist and former captain of Team USA. She is married to Caro. She is mom to baby Liv. She is also one of the best human beings you will ever meet. I saw an interview somewhere where Caro said when she met Julie, she immediately fell in love. I totally and completely 1000% get it. It is nearly impossible to put into words how you feel when you are around Julie, but I wasn’t alone–everyone at camp absolutely raved about Julie. And that is not meant as a slight in anyway of Caro or Pou or Ann-So or Kim or Laura or anyone else. I think probably she just inspired and supported us with every word and every action.
But I digress, Julie brought us into a hot, humid gym and put us through the ringer: teaching us about dynamic movements to warm up, agility training using an agility ladder, and circuit training. At the end of the hour, we were actual walking puddles of sweat… who then had to go put on wet gear and skate for another 90 minutes.
DAY ONE: AFTERNOON SKATE
The afternoon skate had us do a warm-up of quick turns and shooting and then we broke up into five groups of 7-8 skaters based on the dot colour on our name tag and went to various stations (that afternoon it was shooting with Ann-So, an inside edge and shooting drill with Laura, quick turns with a pass, backward skating and backward starts with Caro and some kind of passing-skating-shooting drill with Pou).
We were grouped based on experience level and our self-reported skill level. This was where it really hit me how epic the camp was. There were two skaters who were younger than me in our group. The other four skaters (I was the seventh) were older. Every person in our group had been playing for less than five years. This camp really was geared toward women who often wanted to play hockey as kids but were told they couldn’t because of their (our) gender. We all worked hard. We all wanted to learn. We all had strengths and weaknesses and we wanted to improve both for our strengths to get stronger and our weaknesses to get less weak. But above all, we all wanted the others to succeed and get better.
It was one of the first times in hockey that I had experienced being able to not compare myself to everyone else on the ice. I wasn’t concerned whether I was the weakest link or couldn’t do a drill as well as someone else (or whether the opposite was true). It was freeing and gave me a sense of confidence I had never experienced in hockey.
DAY ONE: FINISHING HUNGRY
After we finished all five stations, we finished with some more 3 v 3 where we could use the coaches by passing to them at the blue line or below the goal line. We left after our 90 minutes covered in sweat, smelly, worked and elated. As we changed out of our gear and into our regular clothes, we talked about what we were going to have for dinner because we were all ravenous after the day we had. In fact, when we returned the next day we all talked about dinner and what we had eaten. One woman ate a burger, fries and a half a chicken (or some incredible amount of food). I got a large order of poutine with shredded chicken and could not even begin to finish it, but it was so good and even better the next day since the gravy soaked into the fries.
DAY TWO: SHORT AND SWEET
We returned for day two with a similar set up… except our lunchtime chat was Caro and Julie talking about the game, the CWHL, the #ForTheGame protest and growing the game. Caro passed around her Vancouver gold medal and her Sochi ring. Pou passed around her PyeongChang silver medal (which she grabbed from my hand as I was getting my phone to take a picture) and then we had autographs and photos with Pou, Stacey, Caro and Julie.
MY FAVOURITE OUELLETTE POULIN HOCKEY CAMP MOMENTS
1) Baby Liv pointing her beautiful little finger at me and saying “mama.” The kid has some good genes since she is the child of Caro and Julie–I anticipate next year she will skate better than all of us 50+ year olds.
2) Learning slap shots with Laura Stacey: Laura took time with each of us to go over in detail what we were doing right and what we needed to change. I was happily surprised when Laura told me I had the weight transfer part down. I had never learned how to do a slap shot before and had no idea how to correctly do one. Now that I know, I practice them every time I am on the ice… even if just for 5-10 minutes.
3) The final afternoon of camp, we did a lot of 1 v 1 work and I have never been terribly comfortable playing defence/skating backwards. Our warm-up that session was a 1 v 1 with a partner. One skated backward (defence) and one forward (offence). The person on offence tried to tap the defender on the chest. You had to face your partner the entire time, so you couldn’t turn around and use your butt or hips to evade contact. It forced you to skate backwards. It forced you to keep your eyes up. It forced you to use your edges, especially to evade a tag while skating backwards. It was an absolute blast—and all of us gained some confidence. We realized we could skate backwards better than we believed. We could use our edges… and we did it while having so much fun.
4) Inside edge drill, receive a pass, shoot and crash the net with Laura Stacey: using four hockey dangle/stick handling trainers (two pucks raising a cut stick would work if you build your own) set them up a few feet apart and staggered. Weave through from one to the other on the inside edge, push to the next side to weave back and forth, come off the final edge and receive a pass, take a shot on net. Skate toward the net to a cone, quick turn and around for another pass and shot.
5) Greasy type goals with Pou: stand with your back to the net, approximately even with the center of the net, at the lower hash marks. Receive a pass from someone up toward the point, settle the puck, quick jump around turn to pull off a backhand shot OR drag puck quickly across body behind the boot, quick jump to fire off a wrist or snapshot from the forehand side. I liked this drill a lot, generally, but also specifically because I made all four shots I took (two from the backhand and two from the forehand side) making a shot in each of the four openings on the shooter tutor.
6) As I was leaving camp on Sunday afternoon, Laura and Pou were in the hallway near the exit. They said goodbye and told me I did well… and that they saw me improve over the weekend. I put my bag down and stopped to chat for a moment commenting I was so happy I had made the journey to camp. They asked where I was from and told them I traveled from California. Both were impressed with my willingness to make the trip… I laughed and said I was looking forward to it again next year. I wish I had pulled my phone out and taken an off-ice picture with both of them (individually and together). And I have to add, I left with major crushes on both of them.
7) FIST BUMPS: I mean, you honestly cannot get enough fist bumps and kudos from these amazing coaches. The genuine excitement they had for you was so damned cool.
THIS CAMP RULES
I could go on for hours about my first trip to hockey camp, and in particular, THIS HOCKEY CAMP. Caro and Pou offer many youth camps (for all levels) during the summer (all over Quebec and I think one or two in New Brunswick and maybe one in Newfoundland). Caro and Julie offer some other camps as well at Julie’s home rink in Connecticut.
I am so grateful that they offer this experience to women of my age… and that they understand the value in working with and teaching us. If you are an adult player or a parent of a hockey playing girl, make the trek to Eastern Canada for this extraordinary opportunity.
(and Caro, Julie, Pou, Laura, Ann-So, Kim and everyone else: come on out to California for a camp near San Francisco! We would love to have you!)
Do you have a rad hockey experience you want to share?