PORT McNEILL—The turnout was a bit of a disappointment, but Clayton Stoner said his third trip back home to headline his summer hockey camp was well worth the trip.
“For me, at the end of the week and looking back, it’s mainly about watching the kids improving and having fun,” said Stoner, who grew up here before going on to his current job as defenseman for the NHL’s Minnesota Wild. “I just feel I need to give back to the local area.”
The weeklong camp, run by Victoria-based Progressive Hockey, wrapped up Friday with the traditional games for younger and older groups, as well as an autograph-signing session with a pair of professional players who grew up in Port McNeill.
Stoner was joined, as he has been for each of his three camps, by fellow North Island Eagles alumni and current professional skater Benn Olson, whose parents still live in Port McNeill.
“It’s nice that Clay and I can spend time together, because we’re thousands of miles apart during the season,” said Olson, who plays in England for the Coventry Blaze of the Elite Hockey League in England after spending four seasons with AHL and ECHL teams in the U.S. and Canada.
The Clayton Stoner Hockey Camp was born out of a partnership between Stoner and Andy Seppanen of Victoria’s Progressive Goaltending and Progressive Hockey camps, held in several locations in B.C., in 2011.
After drawing almost 50 player in its first year and nearly 70 last summer, participation dropped to just more than 20 players last week. The stark drop-off may have resulted from the camp’s move from the first week of July to the third week, where it was up against the annual World Cup Soccer Camp in Port McNeill as well as summer vacations.
But the camp does give Stoner and Olson a chance to return home to visit family, and this summer definitely gave the eager players plenty of individual instruction.
“Andy’s got everything organized, and we just need to show up,” said Stoner, who participated in his first NHL playoffs this spring but was injured while delivering an assist in the Wild’s opening first-round game. “We love coming back here. My brother came up at the same time, and we both brought out wives.”
The camp wrapped up the month of summer ice at Chilton Regional Arena, which featured three hockey camps and the Canskate Figure Skating program. Ice will return in September, following the Mount Waddington Regional Fall Fair’s appearance here.