Detroit (part two)Welcome to Bandits goalie camp:
That 30-second clip should give you an idea of the constant activity. eACH day of camp, the kids were on ice for about three and a half hours, with an hour and a half for for lunch and classroom study, plus one hour of off-ice training.
For this week, there were 28 students and 15+ instructors, along with about 5 shooters. The instructors were all high-level players in their own regard, as were the shooters selected for the camp. A few NHL goalies (along with more draft picks in recent years) have been to Bandits, and the camp is famous for kids (and instructors) coming back year after year.
After the first day, it was easy to see why. The on-ice time was tremendously well-organized, with meticulous instruction, and what particularly stood out for me was that the instructors worked just as hard with 10-year-olds as they do with elite teenagers. Plus the atmosphere was incredibly positive. Everyone--instructors and kids alike--treated each other with respect and good humor.
What a great place for a kid.
There were three other kids in Eli's age group (11-12, even though he's still 10 for another week). And they were all good.
One kid, in particular, reminded me of Eli. He was shorter, but he had a similar style in goal--super quick, very athletic, and solid technique.
I'm going to call him "Tommy."
Goalies, at every age, tend to fall into two categories: size goalies and quickness goalies. The other two kids in the group were size goalies, but Eli and Tommy were all quickness.
There were several moms sitting near us in the stands--all very nice, which is no surprise in the Midwest--and one in particular was just a terrific person. She had three younger kids with her, and they were all bright, funny, and well-behaved. After everyone talked for a few minutes, Gloria asked her who her son was.
Of course, it was Tommy.
After the first half hour or so, we could see that Eli and Tommy were talking in-between drills, beginning to hang out together. Eli genuinely enjoys other kids, and I had a feeling they'd be friends.
At some point in the first hour, as Eli skated in-between drills, I caught his eye, and he nodded.
The shooters in this camp were all beasts, as Eli likes to call someone who he considers great. And they beat all the goalies on a regular basis, but Eli got his licks in.
This was a good example of his athleticism. It's a drill where you start off on your back, with your skates facing the goal, and when the instructor bangs his stick on the ice, you have to roll over, stand up, and get into position to stop a shot. The instructor almost blocks Eli (he's at the back, in the center), but you can see him get into position:
If that looked easy, it wasn't. It's incredibly difficult, actually, and that wasn't the first time in that drill that Eli had done it--it was the fourth time in about two minutes. He was the fastest the first time, and while he did slow down by the fourth time, the gap between him and the next kid in his group was even larger, because they had slowed down more.
He was able to do things like get up from that position, then go into the butterfly after being up for only a split-second, and it was still completely in rhythm. Not normal.
He was still the Superfreak, even in a camp full of excellent goalies. His reflexes were so off the charts that when kids ten years older shot pucks at him far faster than he'd ever seen, he adjusted.
We found out later that day that Tommy's team had won the state championship at the highest level of travel hockey in his home state (and it was definitely a hockey state).
On Monday, I thought Eli was better. Not a lot better, mind you, but I thought he was better. And Tommy was a full year older.
Late that afternoon, when we had a chance to talk, I said, "Well, what do you think?"
"I'm just as good as those kids," he said.
"Really?" I asked. "Because I think you were better."
He smiled. "Maybe a little," he said, "but Tommy is really, really good. Plus, he is totally cool."
"Both true," I said (I'd talked to him for a minute, and he seemed like a completely great kid). "And for the rest of the week, you get to compete with him, which will make you better. You guys can be friends and still compete to help each other get better."
"I know," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."