VIERUMÄKI – If you're curious about the future of women’s hockey, you should be at Vierumäki, Finland, where over 200 athletes, and over a hundred staff members, have gathered for a week, to participate in five development programs.
The High Performance Camp (HPC) is aimed at the next group of athletes and team staff who will be involved in the international game. Last year’s inaugural HPC was held in Bratislava, Slovakia. This year’s Hockey Development Camp, for the future leaders of women’s hockey, is the fourth one.
And where hockey is played, there are referees and linesmen. The Game Officials program gathers 38 participants to fine-tune their skills. The program will also identify the candidates ready for inclusion in the top group of referees for future assignments, such as the Sochi Olympics.
The Learn to Play program focuses on providing the tools to the people implementing the recruitment strategies, to get more girls to play hockey, and for nations that don’t qualify for the HPC - because they don’t have a national under-18 program - there is an observer program.
The foundation for the future is laid here. The foundation for the future of the players and coaches participating, and with them, the women’t game itself.
A good example of that was seen right off the bat, when the players participating in the high performance camp went through their physical tests on the first day of the camp. They were tested in sprint, vertical jump, distance jump, pullups, bench press and a run test.
Two days earlier, though, Steve Lidstone and Dawn Strout, the strength and conditioning coach mentors, had been testing the coaches.
“We were asked to come and coordinate the activities and to be mentors to the six strentgh coaches from around the world,” Lidstone says.
“Yesterday, we went through the warm-up and cool down procedures that will be used at camp. We’ve outlined a 20-minute warm-up for pre-ice or pre-workout, and a 15-minute cool-down program,” he adds.
The days when the players would just shower and leave the rink are over. Or at least they should be, but according to Lidstone, there are big differences in even things like warming up, when comparing the U.S. and Canada to the rest of the world on the women’s side.
“Different nations are at different levels. We’re trying to help others go get up to that level, because we do want to have a level playing field as soon as possible,” says Lidstone, head strength and conditioning coach for Canada’s Women's and Sledge Hockey Teams.
“Being here at the camp is all about the future. It’s all about development and creating some good habits that they can take home with them,” he adds.
That’s where the real work is done, of course. At home. Every day, away from Vierumäki, whether it’s in Falun, Sweden, or in Rouen, France.
“We’re going to see a jump. We’ll leapfrog the development by a decade. Remember, we’re in our 22nd year of women’s international hockey, and none of the players playing in the national teams now have ever seen these opportunities. For us to bring it to the other countries will level the field – as long as they do bring everything they learn here back home with them,” Lidstone says.
“It’s up to the girls and coaches here to do it,” he adds.
And they are.
“We have five development camps in Turkey this summer, one of them for women. Everything here is so well organized, it’d be great if all countries could do something like this at home,” says Ferhat Tozunler, who’s director of development with the Turkish federation, and participating in the observer program.
There are also two Turkish girls in the camp.
“Interestingly, the girls from the top nations always seem to be surprised to see hockey playing girls from Turkey,” Tozunler adds, smiling.
This week, though, there’s no Canada, Turkey, or Finland on the ice. Instead, there are teams like “Everest” and “Kilimanjaro”. Players and coaches from all over the world come together to work together.
“That is fantastic,” says Lidstone, and he sounds almost shy when he says it, as if worrying that he’s speaking in clichés.
“But it is. The whole world comes together here. We’re bringing down the walls,” he adds.