Los Angeles Jr. Kings hockey teams drop the puck for training camp in South Lake Tahoe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Los Angeles Jr. Kings hockey teams drop the puck for training camp in South Lake Tahoe

Anthony Gentile
A skater gets in on net with the goaltender outstretched during a Los Angeles Jr. Kings training session Aug. 4 at South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena. The youth hockey program held its training camp on the South Shore for the second straight year.
Anthony Gentile / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — For the second straight season, the Los Angeles Jr. Kings hockey program conducted summer training camp on the South Shore. The Jr. Kings U-18 and U-15 AAA youth hockey teams spent four days in Tahoe from Aug. 8-11, bringing some of the West Coast’s top talent to SLT Ice Arena.

“The environment is beautiful and the setting is beautiful,” said Jr. Kings U-18 coach and ex-professional player Barry Dreger. “We’re here to work, but we’re also here to have fun.”

On the ice, the Jr. Kings took advantage of South Lake Tahoe’s elevation to train at altitude. And players felt the difference from sea level from the first drop of the puck.

“It’s a good workout because the altitude makes it really hard to breathe with the thin air,” said Jr. Kings U-15 AAA defenseman Jack Blake, son of Hall of Famer Rob Blake. “The first practice was hard getting into form and skating around. Your legs don’t feel as tired, but your chest does and it’s really hard to breathe.”

The thin air presented challenges to the Jr. Kings during training sessions. Off the ice, the team that competes nationally in Tier 1 Elite Hockey League used Tahoe’s surroundings to create further adversity — including hikes and military-style drills on the beach.

“We put our kids in adverse situations here, and they’ve risen to the occasion,” Dreger said. “Those are the challenges and opportunities we want to present — when you become uncomfortable, you grow.”

The Jr. Kings stayed at Aston Lakeland Village Resort in South Lake Tahoe during camp, and roomed in groups of five — the number of players on the ice at one time in front of the goaltender. During their short stay, the focus was on hockey and team bonding.

“When we get here, it’s uninterrupted,” Dreger said. “The kids get to focus on hockey for 48 hours, and it promotes interaction where they can communicate and talk about hockey — it’s kind of like a restart button for everybody.”

“It’s really nice to just look out that window and see trees all around,” Blake added. “It’s a lot different.”

At Barton Health, players conducted Wingate and v02 max tests and received feedback on their level of physical fitness. After the tests, they got the chance to see how in shape they were compared to players who tested at the National Hockey League Scouting Combine.

“It’s a great way to see where you’re at and a really hard 30 seconds,” Blake said. “It feels like a long time.”

Both the Jr. Kings and South Lake Tahoe represent increased popularity of hockey on the West Coast. And the local equation starts with Tahoe Sports and Entertainment, who owns South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena and operates the Tahoe Icemen junior hockey team.

“To see how well hockey is growing and developing on the West Coast has been phenomenal,” said Dreger, who played for the San Diego Gulls in the mid-1990s. “Hockey is pretty strong at the top and there’s a filter-down effect — right now, California hockey is pretty strong.”

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