Penguins Take Youth Summer Hockey Camp to Sweden

After Sidney Crosby arrived in Pittsburgh, the Penguins ramped up their efforts to grow the game locally – which has happened exponentially with excellent programs like the Little Penguins Learn to Play, DICK’S Sporting Goods Penguins Elite and everything that the elite hockey staff at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex has to victim. And now, those efforts have gone global.

Earlier this summer, the facility’s executive director of hockey development and programming Brian Mueller, power skating and skill development professional Kevin Muller, and sports performance director Jason Jerome traveled to Sweden to host summer camps for nearly 200 kids over two separate weeklong sessions.

Youth hockey players from not only Sweden, but Norway, Denmark, Latvia and Italy as well, gathered in Malmö to receive world-class on-ice and off-ice training through the EXCEL Hockey Academy Powered by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“We were extremely impressed. They did such an amazing job,” said Marcus Adler, director of the Swedish hockey company PP Hockey, who ran point in Sweden. “The word has really spread across Scandinavia. We have a lot of Norwegians emailing saying they heard the camp was good, and the week after our camp was the big Sweden selects camp with all the best 2011 and 2010 kids, and they all spoke about the great Pittsburgh camp.”

The idea for all of this came from Adler, as his 11-year-old son Elvin is a huge fan of the Penguins. The team won their back-to-back Stanley Cup championships right when Elvin was really starting to get into hockey, and Crosby quickly became his favorite player.

Elvin had found the camps offered each summer at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex while browsing the Internet, and the family was considering making a trip over to Pittsburgh. When the pandemic happened, their plans fell through. However, Marcus was intrigued by the Academy style and system, which Sweden uses for their soccer camps, another sport that Elvin plays.

“I started to think about, why aren’t we doing this in ice hockey?” Adler said.

So, he reached out to Mueller about whether the Penguins would be interested in coming and doing a camp in Sweden. The answer was a resounding yes, an agreement was quickly reached, and both sides got everything in order.

Mueller, Muller and Jerome modeled this camp after the EXCEL Hockey Academy, setting it up with an on-ice session and off-ice session in the morning before lunch; another on-ice session and off-ice session before dinner; and then a game at night.

Sweden is one of the best countries in the world when it comes to ice hockey, so the skill level and competition is high. But their youth hockey culture isn’t quite as demanding compared to the Penguins’ approach, as their philosophy revolves around pushing athletes out of their comfort zone to maximize their potential.

“It was awesome because they really appreciated the coaching,” Mueller said. “Just that level of intensity, they’re craving for that kind of stuff. From a skill set perspective, they’re really, really high end. But playing with pace and playing that North American style, they don’t have that sense of urgency because the Olympic ice is so much bigger. So we were able to kind of shrink the ice a little bit and create that intense small ice field where you have to move the puck a lot quicker.

“They liked that strictness, and they liked the purpose of the training and the purpose of the off-ice training. They never experienced that aspect of it.”

It obviously didn’t have the same educational aspect as the EXCEL Hockey Academy, but the Penguins staff did work in some seminars about different North American options that the campers weren’t familiar with – which has already helped start one camper on a new path .

“One guy signed up with Pittsburgh and he’s moving over in August,” Adler said. “He’s an ’07, and he’s going over to Pittsburgh to play for the EXCEL Hockey Academy.”

Meanwhile, Adler handled all of the logistics. The camp was held at Malmö Arena in southern Sweden, a new complex that is home to the Malmö Redhawks of the Swedish Hockey League, the country’s top professional league. There is a main rink, a training rink (which the camp used), a restaurant and a hotel all in the same building, which perfectly suited the camp’s purposes. Once all of that was figured out, before they knew it, all of the spots had been snapped up.

“We thought we were gonna have to fight to fill all the spots, but we filled it up in a month and a half,” Adler said. “And we only did Facebook advertising. The total sum of our advertising was about $1,000, and we filled up 180 spots, with the rest of the kids coming from (PP Hockey). And what’s really cool is there’s so many hockey camps in Sweden . Every city, every week, there’s summer camps everywhere, and we still managed to get almost 200 players to come.”

It’s a powerful example of the reach that the Penguins have. While the kids were given Penguins apparel, many of them already possessed some, with Adler saying “you see every third or fourth kid with an NHL cap, and it’s Pittsburgh.” That was especially impressive to him considering that historically, the Penguins have never had superstar players from Sweden.

“But they all came and they had their sweatshirts and their hats and their favorite players, like Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin,” Mueller said. “There was very big support of the Penguins.”

And with the camp, they were able to show the power of the Penguins brand, and how the organization operates at such a high level in every facet – including youth hockey. No other NHL team has the type of dedicated full-time staff and detailed curriculum for their camps and programs that Pittsburgh does, and the campers in Sweden were grateful for a chance to experience that.

“We’re used to high standards and we’re used to good training, and this was a little bit better than everybody was used to,” Adler said. “So everybody was just extremely happy and surprised with the high level of everything.”

Moving forward, both sides hope to take this partnership to another level by not only holding another summer session, but setting up a Penguins Europe youth hockey team. It will consist of players from Europe that will play tournaments both on their home soil and in Pittsburgh.

“I already have a lot of people who went to the camp and loved it, and they keep asking, what is happening now, what are you gonna do next? Next year, are you setting up a team?” Adler said with a laugh. “It’s a little bit more than I thought when we were first checking out the summer camp in Pittsburgh.”


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