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THN in Russia with Pavel Datsyuk: Welcome to the camp

Pavel Datsyuk had 23 goals and 59 points in 56 games this season. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Pavel Datsyuk had 23 goals and 59 points in 56 games this season. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

EKATERINBURG, RUSSIA – We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Welcome to the home city of Pavel Datsyuk and, more specifically, the Kurganovo Complex, which sits about 20 minutes outside of town down an unassuming side road lined by open land and small clusters of shanties with makeshift sheet metal fences. 

The area itself reminds you of cottage country, with its rough roads, lakes, pines and secluded lifestyle, but it’s a whole other world out here, a whole other continent on the eastern slope of the Ural mountain range. On the drive out from town to the complex, you pass a large marker that represents the end of Europe and the beginning of Asia.

As one of the stewards on the plane we took from Frankfurt to Ekaterinburg said when we told him why we were going to this destination: “That’s a strange place to go for a hockey camp.”

For the fourth year, the PD13 Hockey School will be hosted by No. 13 on the Red Wings and run by a collection of instructors with various backgrounds in the sport. You’ll meet them all in this space at some point during the week as we follow the inner-workings at the kids’ camp for players aged eight to 12 that runs Monday to Friday. We’ll also give you an inside peek at Pavel Datsyuk the person, but for now, how in the heck did this North American-designed camp sprout up so far from home?

It all started on a Detroit Red Wings plane trip a few years ago when Datsyuk approached Jay Woodcroft, then a coach with the Wings and currently an assistant with the San Jose Sharks. Datsyuk knew of a hockey camp Jay and his brother, Todd (an L.A. Kings scout), ran in Belarus and wanted to take that approach in his hometown to give something back to the community.

“He wanted to expose the kids in Ekaterinburg to a different style of coaching, to the North American style,” Jay Woodcroft said.

That North American style is all about fun and a positive attitude. It’s not something common in these circles, so it provides a unique experience for the kids. A lot of them are making repeat appearances and the glow in their faces as they arrived, recognized and ran up to greet their North American instructors tells you all you need to know about the impact this experience has had on them. It’s a reaction Datsyuk is proud to have helped create.

The facility itself has a resort feel, with dormitories for instructors and kids to stay in, a double ice-pad arena (Olympic and North American-sized), plus a weight room, boxing gym, basketball courts, a dual-purpose soccer and tennis court, cafeteria, wooded trails and a lakeside beach that is just like home, except without a single cottage in sight.

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But it wasn’t always like that. Year 1 of the school was held here when a single aged arena stood with a “Soviet-style training camp feel” to it. For Year 2, the school was moved downtown. But because of Datsyuk, his supporters and a little input from Jay and Todd at the conclusion of that second year, the Kurganovo area was transformed into a modern complex in shockingly fast fashion in time for Year 3.

“To me, it has become a destination in and of itself,” said Jay Woodcroft. “Families can come and walk to the lake and spend time around the water. They can come and work on different things - there’s lots of stuff to do.

“It’s become an attractive part of the hockey school where you’re not just dropping your son off at nine in the morning and picking him up at four, you’re going to hockey school and you’ll be immersed in it from the time you get dropped off until when you get picked up at the end of the week.”

And it was all made possible by Datsyuk. Ask anyone here about him and you’ll quickly get an idea of his selfless, down-to-earth nature. He doesn’t seek to be treated like an NHL superstar - on the contrary, he just wants to be one of the guys.

Which he is, making the experience not just special for the kids, but enlightening for the instructors as well.

“Just a couple months ago Pav was at a Bass Pro Shop in Detroit and he saw some kid there who looked like me,” said T.J. Aubrecht, a former American high school varsity player who also played a year with the Minnesota Junior League’s Hudson Crusaders.

“He asked the kid if he could take a picture with him and sent it to me with the caption ‘I didn’t know you were working at the Pro Bass Shop in Detroit.’ That was pretty cool for me because I didn’t expect him to be thinking about me throughout the year. I’ll remember that for a while.”

Pavel Datsyuk asking someone to take a picture with him? This is the type of personality you’ll get a glimpse of during the camp this week.

Rory Boylen will file reports regularly over his time with Pavel Datsyuk and Co. at his hockey camp held at the Kurganovo Complex near the Red Wings star's hometown of Ekaterinburg, Russia.

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