Twelve current and former Harvard men's hockey players were invited to participate in NHL development camps this summer. Our third check-in comes from netminder Merrick Madsen with the Flyers (photo courtesy Merrick Madsen).
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of returning to the Philadelphia Flyers Development Camp that is held at their practice facilities in Voorhees, New Jersey. Every year since my draft year of 2013, I have been lucky enough to make the trip down to meet with the many different members of the Flyers organization to both show my progress and try to find areas of my game that need some tweaking. This year's camp was a week-long with only 34 players, which allowed for everyone to have plenty of time to work with the different development coaches, whether it was on or off the ice.
After flying in and having a quick group meeting in the hotel, all of us went back to our hotel rooms to get a good night's rest, preparing ourselves for what was the first official day of camp. Believe it or not, there ended up being zero time on-ice in our schedule for that whole first day. Instead, the day's events ranged from off-ice physical testing to a media interview to driving to downtown Philadelphia for some physicals to make sure we were all healthy for the week ahead. While we might not have ever made it out on the ice, it was a great opportunity to get to know some of the new guys that had either been drafted or received an invite to the camp, and to be able to check my progress from the previous years of testing I had done. Thankfully, my numbers showed a general upward trend for the most part, so I was pretty pleased.
The following four days consisted of what ended up being more of "the grind". Everyone had ice-time twice a day, with workouts, off-ice skills, and film being integrated in throughout. For the morning skate, all the players were split up by position so that we could be more specialized in our training. Us goalies were lucky enough that we had the first timeslots on the ice every morning, but they split the six of us into two groups so we alternated which group had to be up for the 8:30 slot and who got an extra hour of sleep before the 9:30 slot. These morning skates were usually pretty challenging, whether it was pure skating drills or desperation saves, but we all learned a lot from them.
The other two goalies in my group of three ended up being quite an interesting pair. The youngest of the group was Felix Sandstrom, a young Swede who fittingly plays in the Swedish Elite League. Then our other member happened to be the all too familiar Alex Lyon, the guy that stood at the other end of the ice from me during the most recent installment of the Harvard-Yale hockey rivalry. While we might have hated each other for the last couple years, we got to formally meet for the first time off the ice that first night, and came to discover that we were roommates for the week-long camp. The three of us pushed each other the whole week both on and off the ice, and I can confidently say that they are both really great guys.
Once we were done with our first skate, we had a quick workout, followed by a delicious lunch cooked by the professional chefs that work in the kitchen at the rink, and took the next couple of hours to nap before we hit the ice once more. For this second skate, we would hop on the ice with either the forwards or defenseman for a more typical practice setting. It was great for all us goalies to be on the receiving end of such high quality shots, as we can only improve our reaction time and technique to the level of the shots that we see in practice. While this skate was a bit longer and featured more shots, being able to rotate the three of us between the two nets allowed us to grab our breath.
As we moved from one commitment to the next, these four days flew by pretty quickly. Before I knew it, we were heading into our second to last day, which meant there was one item on the agenda: 3-on-3 tournament. Several days before, the coaches picked four of the most grizzled veterans of the Flyers' Development Camps, and they got to do a mini-draft of all the forwards and defenseman to set teams. Even though the goalies were not eligible for it, the draft provided some hilarious entertainment for a couple hours, between the hilarious trade proposals and guys getting "upset" that they got drafted onto a bad team. Getting into the actual on-ice tournament, a lot of fans came by to watch, and a lot of skill was showcased on the ice. Personally, I played on a couple different teams through the round robin and picked up some wins, but I didn't get cycled in for the championship game. I managed to play in the consolation game to grab third place. You can't win them all I guess.
Coming in to our last day, we had our earliest wake-up yet, around 6 o'clock, in order to get on the bus and head down to Jersey Shore. Every year for the last twenty or so years, the Flyers have had a beach day referred to as the Trial on the Isle as a part of their development camp. Instead of another day at the rink, we throw on our swimsuits and head down to the Shore to partake in a long day of varying off-ice activities. We started on the beach with a fan voted sandcastle competition, followed by the actual "Trial" which consisted of several miles of running with different exercises and obstacles to work through. This year had a twist in that we had to run with an ice cream cooler and sell all the ice cream before we could be done. All the money we made from selling the ice cream and from the entire Trial on the Isle was going to a charity that helps homeless veterans get back on their feet, so we were all pretty inspired to sell our ice cream. My group wasn't the fastest group to finish, but we did raise the most money via ice cream bars so we had some bragging rights there.
For the next few hours, we went over to the local Yacht Club for another relay race and then a delicious lunch. After our meal, and a few hours at the local middle school signing some autographs, we had our last event of the day: the Beach Volleyball Tournament. I was a part of the team that won it last year, so the expectations were high. I got paired up with fellow goaltender and good friend Matej Tomek from the University of North Dakota, and so we had a lot of the height that helps when playing volleyball. The way the tournament works is that fans in groups of two can formally enter the tournament through the Flyers, and then they match up with two players. Thankfully for me and Matej, we got paired up with the two high school volleyball girls that helped me win it last year. We ended up going 7-1 through the round robin, resulting in a spot in a semi-final game that we also won, so we ended up in the championship best-of-three series. It took all three games to do it, but we ended up winning again this year. I guess I should thank my mom, a former volleyball player, for her good genetics!
Year after year, I have been so impressed with how well these development camps run, and I should take a second to thank the Flyers once more for such good camp. Can't wait until the next one!
Merrick Madsen #31