It was supposed to be just another practice.
Of course, it was a little unusual for the team of 11-year-old minor peewee hockey players to bring their game jerseys.
None of the Kanata Blazers were expecting anything special when they lugged their equipment into a dressing room at the Jack Charron Arena in Glen Cairn on Nov. 29.
But the boys’ jaws dropped when Paul MacLean, the head coach of the Ottawa Senators, walked into the room, followed by his team of assistant coaches.
“When he came in I was just shocked,” said Jacob Vanderwalt, who plays left wing for the Blazers. “Nobody was really expecting (anything). We just thought it was going to be a regular practice.”
The Blazers head coach, Geoff Publow, who works for the Ottawa Senators hockey club, had asked MacLean if he would put his team through the paces for a practice last week.
The day of the practice, MacLean and his assistants arrived early and sat in a separate dressing room, waiting until all the Blazers arrived.
When the Senators head coach walked into the room, the looks on the Blazers’ faces were priceless, said Publow.
“They were all shocked,” said the Blazers head coach. “It was a big surprise.”
For the next hour, MacLean and his assistants – Dave Cameron, video-coach Tim Pattyson and team services organizer Jordan Silmser – put the boys through a series of skating and stick-handling drills, which included several one-on-one, two-on-one and three-on-two stations.
Jason Makepeace, a defenceman, said his favourite drills were the two-on-ones and one-on-ones.
“We’d both be on the boards and pass to someone else on the boards, pass back and then go one-on-one,” he said.
MacLean said he created a practice that would help the kids with their skills development.
“Mostly the skating part of it: passing and shooting and then just some team stuff to give them an idea of how to use the rink, maybe a little better than they have.
“They were a good group,” MacLean said after the practice. “They get a little star-struck at first, but as it goes on they get a little more tired and they get into the normal routine and I thought that they caught on to what we wanted them to do pretty quickly.”
Last week’s practice with the Blazers was the second visit of MacLean and his coaching staff with a minor hockey league team in Ottawa.
The Ottawa Senators coaching staff visited the Gloucester Rangers major atom A team on Nov. 26, the first of many visits to come over the coming weeks, said MacLean.
“The NHL lockout is on and we don’t have any players of our own to coach,” said MacLean. “A lot of us have been minor-league players and have coached minor hockey with our sons coming up. It just gives us an opportunity to get out into the community and meet some of these kids and basically show them a good time.”
If you want to be an Ottawa Senator, you have to skate fast, MacLean told the Blazers at the start of the practice.
But he said his most important tip for the kids, was to just have fun.
“In the National Hockey League we get focused on the winning and the money and the championships and playing good,” he said. “We have to remember it’s a game too and it’s a fun game to play and we try to instill that in our players here in Ottawa.
“We want to be successful, but we also want to have fun doing it.”
Publow and the other Blazers coaches took mental notes of some of MacLean’s drills.
The practice also created a special memory for the group of 11-year-old boys.
“Good memories,” said Publow. “That’s what minor hockey is all about. We’re playing the game to win, but we’re also here to make sure they have fun and have good memories from this, and this will certainly be one of those memories for the boys.”