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    August 16, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Liberty Summer Hockey Camps have grown almost back to the numbers they reached pre-COVID-19, and this summer offered one geared specifically for 13-14-year-old boys, referred to as “Bantam” players in hockey.

    “This was the first time we have had Bantams as their own camp,” said Flames ACHA Division II men’s hockey Head Coach Ben Hughes, who helped direct the camp and also serves as Club Sports Director of Recruitment. “We had a little over 50 campers here in that Bantam age group and it’s such a fun, unique age. They’re going through a lot in life, but that’s why it’s really important to get them here and to pour into them spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally, and all that.”

    Flames DI men’s hockey Assistant Coach Jonathan Chung said the players were receptive to the instruction and developed holistically through the three-day camp.

    “The experience overall was fun and engaging and something new for a lot of the campers,” Chung said. “I think with the COVID years we had to deal with, getting back into an environment where you are spending all day with other groups, especially in a setting like Liberty where we not only focus on the developmental aspect on ice and off ice, but the spiritual building relation aspect is super neat and speaking with a lot of the kids was an amazing time.”

    Chung, who also serves as Club Sports’ academic research liaison and helps with the preseason skating camps that Liberty’s hockey players will participate in later this month, was able to demonstrate power skating techniques to the young campers.

    “I do whatever I can to bring in games that focus in on edging, turning, crossovers, the acceleration portion, so at the end of the day, they’re leaving camp with a skill that they’ve further advanced and hopefully will translate to their upcoming seasons,” he said.

    Meanwhile, the other on-ice clinicians and counselors worked with the players on a variety of other fundamentals of the game.

    “We want to make sure we’re super intentional with these guys,” Hughes said. “We want to get them on the ice at least twice a day. Then we also get them with our strength and conditioning coaches (for) off-ice training … which is a huge part of the game nowadays. We want to make sure we also have coaches’ corners or chalk talks with them  (to) teach them the game, break down some film and video, talk about the mental side of the game as well.”

    But the camps would not be as life-changing if the counselors did not pour into the players spiritually as well as technically.

    Bantam camp counselor and clinician Matt Bartel, a captain on the Division I men’s hockey team instructs players on the ice.

    “Being at Liberty, we want to break into their hearts a little bit, get into those small groups and open up God’s Word,” Hughes said. “We actually did small groups with our counselors and our campers this year versus just kind of preaching to them in a big chapel setting. That opened the door to a lot of intentional conversations and questions, and it was awesome. Four kids gave their lives to the Lord, which was great.”

    “The biggest goal for us as counselors or camp staff is to build those relationships and being intentional and wanting to see that growth and showing the kids that, ‘Hey, we care about you as a person beyond the ice, because there’s a bigger purpose for us,’” Chung added. “Through our actions, they start telling their friends, or the interactions we have with the parents … they’re so excited for what their kids are coming home and telling them about their experiences, and that kind of has a ripple effect.”

    Hughes would like to see more summer campers eventually become Flames players, as has occurred occasionally.

    “We’re thrilled that we have kids coming back each and every year,” he said. “Starting them at Mites and three years from now, they’re coming to Bantam camp, and the next year they’re coming to the U-16 and the development camp, and maybe one year they’ll eventually play here at Liberty. We’ve seen that in a couple players, full circle now, which is really cool. We’ll continue to have those conversations and each year try to make it bigger and better.”

    Video by Patrick Strawn/Club Sports Director of Video & Media, edited by Kylee Lilge/Club Sports Video & Media Assistant