At first glance, Jessica Hammer appears to be your average 10-year-old – she likes hanging out with her friends, playing video games and watching TV.
But the Calgary native has some grown-up dreams.
“I want to play for Canada,” she says of her hockey aspirations. “I’d like to get to play at the Olympics and win a gold medal.”
To help move those dreams a little closer to reality, Hammer and her Southland Snipers teammates took part in a Hockey Canada Skills Development Camp in early January at the Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary.
For the players – most of whom are fans of the Calgary Flames – the biggest thrill was getting to sit in the same dressing room and skate on the same ice as their NHL heroes.
But Hammer got much more out of the camp.
“It’s a lot of fun to meet new people, learn teamwork and get stronger as a team,” she says. “We learn things here that we can use in our practices and our games.”
The Calgary camp is just one of more than a dozen female-only camps that run across the country during the hockey season for players at the Atom and Peewee levels (nine to 12 years old), giving hundreds of girls the chance to hone their skills.
The camps consist of not only on-ice skill building, working on a player’s fundamental skills – skating, passing, stickhandling, shooting – but also on off-ice skill building, working on fitness, respect and teamwork.
“More and more girls are signing up to play hockey every year, and camps like these give them the chance to develop the necessary skills,” says Trina Radcliffe, Hockey Canada’s manager of female development. “Some of the girls at this camp could be future Olympians.”
While the players at the Calgary camp didn’t get the chance to meet any past Olympians, they did get the chance to skate with a past world champion – Correne Bredin, a member of Canada’s 2001 gold medal-winning team, joined the players on the ice along with a few of her teammates from the Western Women’s Hockey League’s Strathmore Rockies.
Bredin says the skills camp teaches the players so much more than on-ice skills.
“It’s a self-esteem builder, a confidence builder and an enthusiasm builder,” she says. “The girls come in kind of shy, and leave with big smiles on their faces, talking and laughing with people they didn’t know a few hours earlier.”
Not every camp features former National Women’s Team members as instructors, although all of the camps do include qualified instructors from Hockey Canada as well as the local Branch, and tips are passed on to local minor hockey association coaches.
“That’s key,” says Radcliffe. “We want the lessons to be more than a one-time thing, so by having the local coaches involved we can ensure that the players continue to learn.”
Thousands of players take part in Hockey Canada Skills Development Camps every year, both male and female. They learn not only how to become better players, but better people.
Could there be a future Olympic gold medalist in the bunch?
Remember to watch the 2018 Winter Olympics, and keep your eye out for 21-year-old Jessica Hammer.