EKATERINBURG, RUSSIA - The rain fell hard and the thunder sounded Monday night at the Kurganovo Complex after a loud first day of workouts at the PD13 hockey school. It was an early, overcast morning after a long, gruelling session the day before, so the challenge Tuesday for the instructors was to make sure the kids were involved and active right from the get-go.
Enter Jeremy Clark, professional trainer, off-ice director at the camp and owner of the Minnesota Top Team facility. Clark specializes in MMA-style training and did some fighting of his own. But the type of workouts he swears by are valuable to hockey, which makes him a key piece of this team.
Clark focuses mostly on core exercises and preaches the importance of balance. Weights are overrated in this program because there are so many other, more basic elements you can use to give yourself better overall strength and fitness.
After following the younger age group Monday, I joined up with the older kids (10 to 12) Tuesday as they took to the field to be put through Clark’s paces right off the bat. At PD13, the schedules remain the same every day for each group, alternating between on- and off-ice twice a day with lunch and a video session in the middle. But the drills change, which is something especially important to Clark, who believe strength is built through muscle confusion.
The kids started off with two laps of the track, stretching and a couple other warmups before being split into groups at six workstations. Among them were medicine-ball tosses, lunges and pulling a resisting partner halfway down the field while holding a stick. The kids cycled through each station at two-minute intervals and went around the field twice.
By the end of it all they were red-faced and panting and with the on-ice session so close all they really had time to do was put on their gear. They gasped in disbelief when Clark told them they’d be spending about five times longer on these types of stations by the end of the week. At least the afternoon session was made up of a soccer game to give them exercise and a bit of fun, too.
Clark and translator Sviatoslav “Slava” Kiselev, the former manager of the Belarussian national team, are paired for the dry-land component of the camp. Clark shouts orders and designs the workouts, while Kiselev helps and chats with the kids in Russian tongue.
What’s neat to see, despite the separation of languages, is the kids’ recognition of the term “hockey player position.” Through Clark’s lead, the older age group all shout the phrase whenever it’s said by one of the instructors. If you’re trying to get one of the kids to bend his knees in the middle of a drill, just say “hockey player position.”
Clark has been a part of PD13 since it opened four years ago and says his viewpoint on why he helps out in the camp has changed drastically from when he began. Where at first it was special to work with and train Datsyuk, it’s now become a brotherhood bond filled with memories the gruff fighter cherishes.
There’s one story in particular that has become legendary at this annual camp.
“Jay and Todd (Woodcroft) always blow it out of proportion,” Clark said, “but they joke that I was running a station and Pav came down - we were doing a backhand off the boards station - and their joke, different in reality, is that I told Pav to step away and I was going to show them how to do this drill.”
Originally when Todd told me the story it involved Clark falling on his butt, while Ekaterinburg’s native son looked on…I’m just saying.
In fact, half the fun for Clark is the recalling of stories such as this one from PD13. He uses the words “precious” and “important” when describing what lasts on from here for him and the friendship he’s developed with Datsyuk.
“When he comes to Minnesota, Pav always drops me a text and we go out and grab a coffee and that matters to me a ton,” Clark said.
The memories will surely continue this year. I’ve already planted a few of my own. Today I met Nikita Morozov, a second-year student from Ekaterinburg. His favorite team is the Red Wings, his favorite player is Pavel Datsyuk and he says the camp has helped him improve his skating tremendously, while connecting him with his hero.
“His first impression of Pavel was definitely that he’s friendly with the kids and that he wants to share his experience with them to make them better,” Kiselev translated. “He was very impressed and he asked for an autograph when he first met him.”
212 AWARD FOR TUESDAY
On Day 2, the winners of the signed hat, special jersey and first-on-the-ice honors were Artur in the younger group and Ivan from the older group. On Day 1, as we were in the changing room waiting for the kids to get dressed before introductions, Artur gave me the strongest, most enthusiastic fist-pump of them all.
It’s funny - he’s also from Khanty-Mansiysk, the same as Day 1 winner Matvei Nasyrov. The pair sits two players down from each other here, but play on the same team 500-plus miles away at home where their squad tops the league standings.
Rory Boylen will file reports regularly over his time with Pavel Datsyuk and Co. at his PD13 hockey camp held at the Kurganovo Complex near the Red Wings star's hometown of Ekaterinburg, Russia.