Alpena has long been one of the biggest supporters of youth hockey in Northeast Michigan and its younger players likely received a skills boost this week when Planet Hockey returned to the APlex this week for its annual training session.
Planet Hockey is a traveling hockey training group based out of Superior, Colorado. It travels to hockey hot-spots across the country, sets up shop in the local ice rink and runs skill drills with the area's youth players.
"We want to give kids who are developing their skills a base to learn from, basically a kind of training platform," Planet Hockey training coach Hannah Bartlett said. "We break down the basics for them, teach them the fundamenals of hockey and hope they can build on their game from that."
Planet Hockey has been coming to Alpena for at least four years and has drawn 50-60 kids nearly every year.
This success is not random. Alpena, and other Planet Hockey cities, are carefully scouted before Planet Hockey makes any attempt to schedule training sessions.
"It's a whole networking process. It involves people we know in the area and people who know us. We go to a lot of different cities in Michigan, so I think the word gets out to a lot of different rinks," Bartlett said. "Picking a town depends a lot on how the rink operates and how much of a hockey city it is."
Once Planet Hockey picks a town, it schedules a full week of two and a half hour on-ice sessions. It also gives its kids a supplemental hour of ice time, if the kids are interested.
"For the on-ice sections, we do skill-based stuff. We'll do skating forwards and backwards, edge work, a stick handling day and a shooting day," Bartlett said. "We break it down so that kids can see the mechanics of it and so they can work on the specific parts of their game that they want to improve."
Planet Hockey training is designed to improve the games of players ages 5-17. Younger players get the chance for a full immersion in the basics while more advanced players fine tune more advanced skills.
In spite of its all-inclusive training package, Planet Hockey and its trainers don't try to teach checking.
"Many of our kids are so young that we simply can't get into actual checking. Though we do get into puck protection and body work, most of the kids here can't physically check," Bartlett said. "Another problem is that checking kind of takes away from the impact of the other drills. Once kids get to the checking age, it's all they want to do."
Participants receive a "report card" at the end of the week, which gives them an idea of how they performed and improved throughout the week. Players then receive a video of their performance in the week ending skills test.
"A lot of the time, we get kids coming back year after year, so they see their report card from last year and can compare it to this year's. Most of the time, they see really good improvement," Bartlett said.
Attendance numbers were a bit lower at Planet Hockey than normal this year, but that didn't seem to concern a group that seems to enjoy coming to Alpena every year and working with its players.
"Alpena has had a great showing of kids in the last few years, at least 50 to 60 kids. When we get that kind of turnout in a town, we keep coming back," Bartlett said.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.