Thursday, July 26, 2012

Detroit (part four)

We were standing outstide a Starbucks located inside the GM Renaissance Center, waiting on a walkway while Gloria stood in line for her coffee.

It was Thursday morning, and we'd be driving to camp in a few minutes.

"I'm ready to take it up a notch today," Eli 10.11 said.

I raised an eyebrow. He weighs seventy-five pounds. It always makes me smile when he says something like this.

He laughed. "I'm serious, Dad," he said. "I feel great. I'm ready."

I smiled. "That's what you do," I said. "You rise up. That's who you are."

Lots of ten-year-olds talk about being clutch, or of doing something great. What's always struck me about Eli, though, is that he can actually do it. When he says he's ready to take it up a notch, he actually understands what he's saying.

I helped him get dressed at the rink, we talked about his three keys for the day, and I chatted with Tommy for a few minutes (they sat next to each other in the locker room all week). Then I told them both to have a good practice. Eli walked out with me, the first one in line to get on the ice. His usual position.

I patted him on the shoulder and started to walk to the stands. "Hey," he said, and I turned around. "My day," he said, smiling.

I watched practice for about fifteen minutes, and in the background, I could hear Gloria talking to Tommy's mom and a few other moms who had stayed to watch.

I tugged on her knee.

"You need to see this," I said.

"What?" she asked.

"It's Eli," I said. "He's playing out of his mind."

He was no longer overthinking, or even thinking at all. He was just exploding with every movement, so incredibly quick and powerful. Shooters were hitting his pads with their sticks after every drill--the universal compliment--because he was dominating.

The kids around him were tired. Everyone was tired, really--parents, coaches, everyone.

Not him.

There were conditioning drills in addition to the technique drills, and one of them was the bunny hop. I think that's what it's called anyway, which is amusing, because it's one of the most painful drills I've ever seen. And they did it after going through six other stations.

In the video you're about to see (which starts about 15 seconds after the drill began), Eli will be in dead last. Doing the movement correctly takes a huge amount of effort, and it's tough to summon that kind of energy after 90 minutes on the ice. Take a look:

The other kids in his group weren't regular kids--everyone was an athlete, and they all played at a high level. He was racing his peer group, not normal kids. There's a point, though, where he just goes to a different level.

They skated off after morning practice, and when I saw him, he had a big smile on his face. "That's the best I've ever seen you play," I said. "You were unbelievable."

"My day," he said, talking through his mouthpiece. Big, happy smile.

He was just as good in the afternoon session. Unstoppable, really. I felt lucky to be watching him.

Friday was the same. There was a fun contest getting staged at one end of the ice, where two shooters and the camp co-founders shot on each goalie. To win, you had to stop four out of five shots.

They weren't normal shots, either--every single one was completely ripped by an elite shooter. Four groups (16 goalies) had already gone through the station, and no one had won. On roughly 75% of the shots, the shooters were scoring cleanly--saves were few and far in-between.

Eli stopped the first shot with a nice pad save before I could get the Flip started. What you'll be seeing are shots 2-5 (and you might want to fullscreen the video, because the shots are very, very fast):

He was beaten clean by one shot, but nothing else got by him (and the rebound/pass didn't count against him in the contest, because he stopped the initial shot). After that last glove save, they even added one more shot, but the shooter went wide. They tied a little award to his catching glove, gave him the nickname "Big E", made a genial fuss over him, and he was entirely thrilled.

That was the end of camp, almost. There was a shootout and a silly game of on-ice soccer, but the afternoon was basically fun and games. I didn't even think they'd have off-ice, which was the last hour of the day, but they did, and they made it tough.

When the workout ended, Eli came walking in from the parking lot, smiling. He looked at me, slapped my hand, and whispered "Killed it."

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