STROHECKER: NHL coach Hartley sets up camp in York year after year
Bob Hartley hasn't coached in central Pennsylvania since the late 1990s.
His last coaching stint before making it to the NHL was behind the bench with the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears. He was only there for two years, but in his first season with Hershey, he led the franchise to a Calder Cup championship. By 1998, he was off to the NHL.
Still, the area holds a near-and-dear place to his heart and that's a main reason why, for two weeks every summer, he sets up shop in York County.
When the camp began last week and concludes on Friday, it'll be the 19th year that Hartley's put on his summer hockey camp, but the 11th or 12th year he's held it at the York City Ice Arena. He's not sure on the exact number.
Just know, that in the 19 years since it began, the camp has become somewhat of an international sensation. This year alone, the diversity of campers is wide reaching. There are three kids from the Ukraine, three from France, a couple from Switzerland, one from Dubai, several from Canada and then many from seven or eight different states. On top of that, one of the camp counselors is a professional coach from the Ukraine who Hartley met while coaching over in Switzerland. Even the camp brochure is in two different languages — English and Hartley's native tongue, French.
"It's an international camp," Hartley said.
Instruction: The camp is called "Bob Hartley High Intensity Camp," so right from the title, you know what you're getting.
The camp offers instruction, not only from Hartley, who has 13 years of NHL coaching experience, including winning this past year's Jack Adams Trophy as the NHL's top coach, but also from current and former NHL players and a number of other counselors who played pro hockey at various levels.
It's a great chance for young hockey players, ranging in ages from 6 to 17, to be taught by guys who played and coached the game at its highest level.
"I put lots of pride to try and bring the best coaching staff possible for those kids," Hartley said. "I think we established an excellent reputation over the years that we're a very serious camp, and whether it's from the medical standpoint to the hockey standpoint, every part of our camp, we're trying to be as top notch as we possibly can."
This year's camp includes instruction from former NHL'ers Steve Begin, Eric Perrin, former NHL assistant coach Paul Jerrard and will feature guest appearances from current members of the Calgary Flames, Mark Giordano and Johnny Gaudreau. As coaches, their job is to teach different aspects of the game to the kids, based on how old they are. And for Hartley, it's his way of getting back to the basics and preparing for his own upcoming season.
"I'm getting ready for next season and these two weeks force me to go back to the real deep fundamentals of the game and teaching and communicating the game in another way," he said. "It's the same game as the NHL, but it's being taught to younger kids."
Love for York: Hartley's camp originally began in Hershey, the location of his last coaching stint before being promoted to the NHL. Over the next few years, while head coach of the Bears' NHL affiliate, the Colorado Avalanche, Hartley continued to host his camp in Hershey every summer.
However, after being fired in the middle of the 2002-03 season and then becoming head coach of the Atlanta Thrashers, Hartley moved his camp to the York City Ice Arena. That's where he's come back to every summer since.
Really, there's not much of a connection between York and Hartley, other than being one of the several local rinks that is near Hershey. But, when he moved his camp to the county for the first time more than a decade ago, the bond created between himself and the area was one that he could never shake.
"The city of York has been unbelievable with us," he said. "Myself, my coaches and the kids love being here."
And for as long as he can foresee, he'll continue to come back. His camp in York has become as much a summer tradition for hockey players around the world as going to the county fairgrounds is for locals.
Kids have a chance to learn the game of hockey from coaches and players with years of experience, as well as build friendships with kids from all over the world. They live with each other in the community room on the upper level of the ice rink and, said Hartley, "could be sleeping next to a kid from the Ukraine or from Dubai."
It's as much a cultural experience as it is a hockey one.
But, deep down, when Hartley returns to York for two weeks every summer, it's about developing the next generation of players.
"I have a passion for the game. I have a passion to teach and I love kids," he said. "...The kids, they are the roots of our game. If there's no kids playing minor hockey, then there's no NHL."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com; follow on Twitter @P_Strohecker.