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Kids learn 'Hockey Sense' from Robbie Ftorek

Former Bruins coach brings his hockey knowledge to Ham Arena

Robbie Ftorek goes one-on-one with a camper to show him how to turn a puck Thursday at the Ham Arena. (Joshua Spaulding/Mountain Ear Photo). (click for larger version)
August 20, 2009
The Ham Arena in Conway played host to Robbie Ftorek's Hockey Sense camp, where young hockey players got a chance to work with the former Boston Bruins and New Jersey Devils head coach to improve their game and make strides towards becoming a better hockey player.

Ftorek, who makes his home in Wolfeboro when hockey season isn't in full swing, has coached and played at many different levels and brings a wealth of experience to his camps, which are in the second year at the Ham Arena.

"Darrell [Umlah, manager of the Ham Arena] asked me if I'd come up and try to do something with the kids," Ftorek said before taking to the ice for a Thursday session of his camp. "I've got to meet a lot of the local kids and parents and see the talent pool."

Skaters from near and far

This year's camp at the Ham Arena featured one skater from Texas as well as three from England, all of whom happened to be on vacation in the Mt. Washington Valley when the camp was scheduled and leaped at a chance to learn from someone with Ftorek's experience.

Additionally, a number of kids came from western Maine and there were a bunch from Conway and Berlin as well. In youth hockey, volunteer coaches are often charged with a large group of kids and asked to make them into a team. Often times there is not enough time to go over the finer basics of the game, which is where a camp like Hockey Sense comes into play.

"We try to get the kids to think about the game," Ftorek said. "We teach them how to shift and stop properly, pivots, explain the dots, things that are in the game that a lot of times are overlooked.

"Like angles," he continued. "Lots of little things about the game."

While the veteran coach noted that those types of things may seem like small bits and pieces to a casual observer, to a hockey player, little things like that can make a big difference on the ice.

"It's small stuff, but it's going to make them understand the concept of the game," he said. "They learn situations and when it happens in a game they'll be ahead of other kids who don't have the training."

Ftorek noted that the only prerequisite for the camp is that a child can skate, since, "with my back I can't take teaching kids how to skate."

One-on-one time

A total of six coaches are usually on the ice during camp hours, which allows the kids a lot of one-on-one time with people who know the game.

"There's a lot of individual attention," Ftorek pointed out. "Which I think is really important. If we see something that's not right, we can work on it individually."

Ftorek's two sons — Sam, who plays in the East Coast Hockey League and has played for the Manchester Monarchs, and Casey, who skates for Middlebury College — join their father on the staff. Hunter Tweed, who skates for St. Anselm's College, and Mark DiCola, who travels from Connecticut to help out and was once Ftorek's trainer in Los Angeles, is also on the ice.

"He keeps me honest," Ftorek said. "And he's really good with all the details."

They are joined by Berlin's Bobby Russo, who credits the camp with helping him learn tons about coaching hockey all while instructing the youngsters on how to improve their game.

"I'm learning more coaching tips out here then anywhere else," Russo said, noting seven of the skaters participating in the Conway camp were from the Berlin area.

The younger group of kids works for about an hour and 15 minutes each of the camp's days and the older kids follow with about an hour and a half of instruction time.

"When they get off the ice, they're tired," Ftorek said.

When the older kids take the ice for the second part of the camp day, Casey Ftorek and Tweed often dress and play against the campers in scrimmages.

"They learn how to play the body angles and use their balance," Ftorek said. "Casey and Hunter teach them."

Ftorek points out that the times when he learned the most about hockey growing up in Massachusetts was when he played with his coaches at the Boston Skating Club.

Bryce and Owen Richmond, brothers from Bethel, Maine, came down to Conway for the camp.

"Ftorek is awesome," said Bryce. "We were looking around for hockey camps and found this and thought it would be fun."

"He's teaching us how to set up plays, maneuvering," his brother Owen noted, listing a number of other small details of the game that he was picking up from Ftorek.

"He works on all our skills, not just the team aspect," said Bryce. "He makes it seem like an individual thing, not just in a group."

Shawn Smith, the nephew of Umlah, the rink manager, traveled up from Boston to learn from Ftorek, echoed how the little things take center stage.

"We learned positioning more and stick handling," Smith said. "He goes over a lot of the angles, too."

As the kids went through their paces on Thursday morning, a number of parents watched from the relative warmth of the arena lobby as their kids skated with someone who once stood behind the bench at the TD Banknorth Garden and led the Bruins onto the ice.

For the parents, this was a great chance to have their kids learn hockey from a pro without having to drive south to the seacoast or even into Massachusetts.

Kids in the program ranged from age six to 16 and they all got on-ice time throughout the week as the camp went on. In addition to the camp days, there was a game night on Thursday to help kids show off some of their skills.

Anyone looking for more information about Ftorek's Hockey Sense camps can e-mail FtoreksHockey@ aol.com or they can stop by the Ham Arena in Conway or call the arena at 447-4888 and ask for Darrell.

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