This summer, Ottawa area children will have a tremendous opportunity to learn from one of the NHL’s greatest skaters. Former Ottawa Senators forward Shean Donovan will host a hockey camp for children ages 6 to 12, sharing the knowledge that helped him excel in the league for 15 seasons. The camp will focus on on-ice and off-ice training for Peewee and Bantam players, with two sessions in July at the Beckwith Recreation Complex in Carleton Place, Ontario. The first session runs from July 18th to the 22nd and the second session is July 25th to the 29th.
When Donovan retired from the NHL last fall, he began assisting his friend and skating Coach Shawn Allard at Perfect Skating, helping to teach hockey players in the nation’s capital the benefits of proper skating techniques. He quickly discovered that he loved the challenge of teaching and sharing what he had learned as a professional hockey player.
“I went into it to try to learn and help Shawn, to see if I was any good at working with kids, teaching and breaking down skating,” Donovan explained. “I found that I love it – with the small groups you really get to help the kids and you definitely see an improvement. I love minor hockey, my nephew is with the minor midget triple-A Ottawa 67’s and I love getting out to the games to watch him and all the young kids. I also have two young boys playing hockey, so getting to see them play at this age is great. I had such a good experience growing up with hockey; my hope is that other kids get to have the same experience.”
In getting his own hockey camp started, Donovan enlisted the help of a family member. His sister Shannon has worked with Hockey Canada, helping to grow the girls and women’s programs and her expertise has been a tremendous help to Shean. An important element when working with children is making the hockey camp a fun experience for all involved and Donovan has discovered that having fun is an important teaching technique.
“My sister has helped me out a lot. This is our first year having the camp and we are running it together – I will be doing the on-ice part of it with the kids and she will be helping run the off-ice activities. It is going to be two weeks with a full day camp and it should be a lot of fun.”
“I’ve learned with kids that you have to find ways of teaching while they don’t know that they are being taught,” he said. “You want to make learning as fun as possible and that makes the game fun for them too. I think everything comes from skating so we are going to concentrate on the basics. You can learn stick handling and other stuff afterwards but when you get your skating base down, the game becomes more fun for the kids when they can move around a lot easier.”
An important ingredient to his own success in the NHL, Donovan worked on his skating technique throughout his career. His speed was a valuable asset on the forecheck and combined with his love of the game, he dazzled opposing defenseman with his abilities.
“As a player, I always thought about skating,” Donovan said. “When I was younger, I just loved hockey – I was a huge fan, I loved the Boston Bruins and Rick Middleton and I played street hockey all the time. My dad put me in figure skating and power skating when I was younger. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was such a good thing to learn about edges so young, it gave me a good head start for skating. For a lot of kids, when they are younger, they don’t learn to use their outside edges. When they are turning, they are kind of turning straight up and until they can learn to use that outside edge, they will have trouble turning. The outside edge is really important because you use it for crossovers and backwards skating.”
The summer hockey camps will also provide an opportunity to learn about off-ice training. Helping with that portion of the program is Ottawa Senators Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Schwarz. The founder of FitQuest, Schwarz brings 19 years of experience to Donovan’s camp and he has created a program that will benefit the young hockey players, while keeping the overall focus on having fun.
“For the younger camps, we are going to touch on a few things but I know for 6, 7 and 8-year old kids, they are just going to want to play sports and have fun in their off-ice work. For a few of the older kids, we can start introducing eating better, learning some balance techniques and core training but we are not big believers in heavy weights for young kids. At the peewee and bantam ages, we can start giving the kids some useful information and helpful programs. At those ages, with their natural abilities, you can start adding technique and strength and they’ll see an improvement in their game.”
“What’s nice about the program Chris has designed is that it is just a couple of days a week where he can show them some things they need to do and work on. It’s not about being in the gym five days a week when you are 12-years old, just lifting heavy weights, it is about working on some core techniques and speed – not getting this huge mass of muscles.”
Team sports can also provide some important lessons that will stay with the children throughout their life. As Donovan learned in his career, when everyone is working together, great things can be achieved on and off the ice.
“I think the biggest thing about sports and hockey in particular because I love it so much, is that it teaches you about life skills – how to interact with others, not being selfish and how to be a good teammate. These are the kinds of things that can be with you for your whole life. Kids are learning when they are little guys, when they don’t even realize it, that they have to be a team if they want to have success and do better. Not that they are worried about winning and losing when they are this age but teamwork is a huge part of success in life.”
Since making the decision to retire from professional hockey, Donovan has focused on the next phase of his life and making the transition to life after hockey. Unfortunately for Ottawa area hockey fans, the Senators did not re-sign the former Ottawa 67’s star during the off-season and like many veteran hockey players, he was still waiting on the sidelines for a contract offer when the season began. In November, the Anaheim Ducks were struggling and looking to shore up their third or fourth line by adding a veteran player. They offered Shean a tryout with their farm team in Syracuse but after arriving to work out with the Crunch, the proud father of four realized that his heart was still at home with his family.
“After being there for four or five days, I kind of knew it was the end,” said Donovan. “I was missing my family, missing Ottawa and that kind of solidified things for me. When I got back from Syracuse, we were offered a contract in Europe but we sat down and decided we were not going. After you decide that you are not going then you have basically decided that it’s the end. I’ve really enjoyed being home and around the kids to be honest with you.”
“When you are younger I think you can just go and you don’t think about these things. The players’ wives deal with a lot because the players are thinking about hockey, extending their career and just playing good hockey. Sometimes you forget about how hard the wives are working behind the scenes, dealing with all of the off-ice stuff – getting the kids in school and having to move around a lot. I think at this time in my life I was able to sit back and see it from my wife’s point of view a little more.”
Selected by the San Jose Sharks in the second round (28th overall) in the 1993 draft, Donovan played with the Sharks, the Colorado Avalanche, Atlanta Thrashers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins before joining the Senators for the start of the 2007-2008 season. He played an integral role in Calgary’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2004, one of many experiences and memories from his career that will stay with him.
“Obviously, your first big memory is always your first game in the NHL – skating through the shark’s head in San Jose, that was always a big dream,” Donovan said with a laugh. “It’s also scoring your first goal and things like that. I remember getting my first hockey card too, that was a big memory. I was at a function in San Jose and a fan came up with a hockey card of mine. I had never had a card and I was so excited when I saw it – that was a big thrill!”
“I really enjoyed playing in all of the different cities too and making it to the Stanley Cup Final with Calgary in 2004. Although, that is kind of a bittersweet moment, not winning, but in the end going there was a great memory. I really enjoyed being able to finish my career in Ottawa too, a town that I wasn’t born in but grew up in, and had lots of friends and memories. Playing with the Ottawa Valley Titans and living in Carleton Place when I was younger, I had thought about coming to Ottawa as a free agent. It ended up happening through a trade and that was awesome. I really loved playing for the Senators.”
Another highlight in Shean’s career was representing Canada at the 1995 World Junior Championship and the 1997 World Championship. He is proud to have worn the national colours on the world stage, bringing home gold on both occasions.
“Whenever you can play for Canada it’s a thrill and it was something I didn’t expect when I was younger. I remember watching the World Juniors growing up, seeing it on television and thinking how awesome that was. It was in Red Deer, Alberta the year that I played, so it was pretty crazy to be able to do it in Canada – I couldn’t believe how excited people got about it.”
As a retired NHL player, Donovan has joined the ranks of “Hockey’s Greatest Family” – the NHL Alumni Association. In his new role as an ambassador for the game he loves, he can continue to share his passion for hockey while being active in the local community and raising much-needed funds for charity.
“I took some time off to start with to make more time for my family but I recently went out to a hospital event and I would like to be more involved with Alumni work. They always help out great causes, it’s good to still be involved with the guys, and they do a lot for the community. It’s nice to still be in the position where you can go out and put a smile on someone’s face. It’s nice that when you are done in the NHL you can still play some hockey and raise money and awareness for great causes.”
This summer’s hockey camps will provide the next generation of hockey players an opportunity to learn many valuable lessons from one of the greatest skaters in the game while having fun at the same time. For more information on the schedule and costs for the camps, visit Shean’s website.
Andrew Rodger is an independent sports columnist and member of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Along with operating The Voice of Sport, he covers the Ottawa Senators and writes the “Ask the Alumni” series here at The Hockey Writers. He is the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association and a contributor on CBC News Now.