Twelve current and former Harvard men's hockey players were invited to participate in NHL development camps this summer. We remain with the Edmonton Oilers for our second check-in, as senior Luke Esposito provides a thorough look at his week in Canada.
The past week I had the opportunity and the privilege to attend Prospect Development Camp with the Edmonton Oilers. For those who don't know, each summer, every team in the league holds approximately a week-long camp in which they bring in draft picks and free agents for a "developmental" experience. Camps range from day after day of excruciating on/off ice workouts in some organizations…to casual practices, cooking competitions, and games in other organizations. I found Edmonton to be a pleasant mix of the two – a chance to test yourself early with a mix of off-ice tests followed later by a couple days of practices, all culminating in a game the final night.
June 29-July 1: With check-in on July 1st I decided to fly in a couple days early to get used to the time change and for another special reason. The opportunity to spend a week in Edmonton the past two summers has been two-fold for me. Not only do I get an incredible experience with the Oilers, but also a chance to see my Dad's side of the family who have lived in Edmonton for nearly three generations now. Thus, flying in a couple days early I was in no need of a hotel room, graciously taken in by the whole Esposito crew for homemade Italian meals and maybe just a glass or two of Nonno Franco's famous homemade wine. On July 1st I was dropped off at Rexall for equipment fitting (a.k.a Christmas for a hockey player) and then shuttled to the hotel for our opening dinner. After a nice meal and some introductions we were off to bed looking for a big night's sleep as a tough day followed.
July 2: As conversation from the night before proved, Day 1 in the Edmonton Oilers Dev. Camp was "the toughest" – Physical Testing Day. Six hours of doctor physicals, mobility testing, core, hips, and shoulder flexibility, measurements of strength through pulls-ups and bench-press, all climaxing with a wind-gate test, 300-yard shuttles and a VO2 bike test back-to-back-to-back leaving everyone weary and ready for a nap. Luckily being "E" in the alphabet I was earlier in the testing and was able to get through it all in time to watch the end of the Euro Cup quarterfinal as the homeland boys (the Italians) took on Germany – unfortunately the ending wasn't quite what we hoped for but sitting around with all the guys yelling about the PK's was an experience I won't forget. With no big names like last year (McDavid, Draisaitl, Nurse) in town this year to keep us in Edmonton, we headed back to Jasper, Alberta – as was tradition – to spend the rest of the week in the beautiful confines of the quaint resort in the middle of the Rocky Mountains.
July 3-July 6: The next four days are grouped together because quite frankly they were a blur, filled with sore hips, lots of bike rides, ping pong, no Wi-Fi, and more sore hips. I won't go through it all but I'd like to point out a few defining moments.
The Pine Bungalows- Being an NHL Development Camp and all you may think we get put up in the nicest hotels with flat screen TV's and high-speed internet, well think again. We stayed in what is called the Pine Bungalows, and looking back I couldn't be happier about the experience it provided. With NO TV's and terrible Wi-Fi (which I recently found out was limited by the organization) the Bungalows forced us to actually hangout with each other – yes we displayed social skills that many hockey players choose to bury as we chase the after the "brooding" stereotype. Every night after we got back to the Bungalows we all hurried to the basement to get to the Ping Pong tables. After hours whacking that little thing around night after night two things were determined: 1) Patrick Russel is a very very good ping pong player and 2) John Marino can beat nearly everyone…except for me.
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Bikes- A unique aspect about camp with the Oilers is the fact that instead of bussing everywhere on a nice coach bus with heat in the morning and air conditioning in the afternoon, we bike everywhere, and I mean everywhere. Each morning started at 6:45 a.m. in full track-suit, socks over our hands, and helmets strapped over our hoods to stay warm. We'd sit on those rock solid seats that seemed to get harder as the week went on, bike up that awful hill to breakfast, eat breakfast, get back on the bikes and ride to the rink (at least the way home was downhill). However, as miserable as that may sound it again provided countless funny stories and a sense of freedom that few camps achieve. While hitting that hill before 7 a.m. was an alarm impossible to snooze, we were most certainly awake by the time we got the rink. And after our workout and skate and meetings were done for the day we were free to bike wherever we wanted. One day a group of us got up to Lake Edith for a swim and some relaxation. The view was incredible. However, the biking trails did unfortunately prove quite treacherous for some (myself and Mr. Caggiula took a tumble ourselves…coming out unhurt though made for quite the laugh).
Others- Other memorable places and days include the golf tournament at Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course – Canada's No. 1 golf resort, biking up to the Jasper Brew Pub for a late night cheat meal and a milkshake, and of course sitting in the same locker room as the team you're playing against in the scrimmage – certainly makes for an entertaining pre-game speech.
The End- At this point it may seem that Edmonton Oilers Development Camp was really just a mini vacation sprinkled with some skates and workouts thrown in between. And while this may seem like a negative I think instead it speaks to the job the Oilers did to create a healthy and positive atmosphere. I met friends in a week that I will keep in touch with forever. For amateur players like ourselves, and CHL guys I'll group you in here too, development camp in Edmonton is truly special because of the way they treat us – like professionals. Yes, we bike instead of bus, and sleep in twin beds an arm's length from your roommate, but for a week we are Edmonton Oilers. Video sessions in the morning run identical to the way they are in the regular season, practices run by assistant coaches from both Edmonton and Bakersfield, medical help from the best in the business, workout techniques that actually make your hips feel better, a "scrimmage" played in a little 700 seat arena in the middle of the Canadian Rockies packed to the brim - 1,000 strong, standing room only…I could go on forever. Coach McClellan said it best in our wrap up dinner when he thanked the entire town of Jasper for creating an atmosphere where not only better players are built, but better people. The Edmonton Oilers are building a culture in which each individual person is equally as important as the other to achieving greatness – and as much as I learned on the ice and in the gym this past week, that is what will stick with me the most from.
Thanks to the Oilers and all involved for an incredible week; hope to be part of it all someday.