It’s a long distance between Yarmouth, N.S. and Denver, Colorado where Ryan Graves has been playing NHL hockey for the past few months.
But distance from his hometown is something Graves has been used to for a long time, whether it was the four seasons he played in the QMJHL with teams in PEI or Quebec or his years playing in the AHL on affiliate teams of the New York Rangers (the team that drafted him in 2013), or the Colorado Avalanche that he plays with now.
But back when Graves was a kid playing minor hockey in Yarmouth, a competitive atom AAA or peewee AAA game could still be up to a six or seven-hour drive away depending on if the rink you were traveling to was at the other end of the province.
Another thing Graves remembers is the distance he and his family would travel for week-long hockey schools in Halifax or PEI. Those trips always stuck with him because he knows it was something not everyone could do. Beyond the camp registration fee itself was the added cost of meals, the hotel, the cost of travel, etc.
“It’s expensive to go away for a week-long hockey camp,” he says. “So, I wanted to bring a high level camp to Yarmouth.”
After years of mulling over the idea, this summer Graves has decided to go for it. From July 15-19 he will be offering and running a hockey school at the Yarmouth Mariners Centre.
The camp will be broken up into two sessions: a novice/atom group whose daily camp will run from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and a peewee/bantam group whose camp will run daily from 1:30-6:30 p.m. Each day there will be two on-ice session, along with off-ice and classroom sessions.
“Basically the focus of the camp is going to be bringing back home a lot of the things that I’ve learned over the years,” says Graves, who says he’s picked up different skills and education in all levels of hockey he’s played in.
“Sessions will be focused on skill development such as power skating, puck handling and shot technique,” he says, saying looking back at his own minor hockey years there are things he wished he had learned about or started working on at an earlier age. He’ll also offer advice on nutrition, game warmups, etc.
There are a limited number of spots available so registration is on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost of the hockey school is $400. Players will be supplied with a jersey. Graves is getting help from local friends and hockey players with the hockey school. To register or for more information people can send an email to Graves at [email protected]
ON THE ICE
The past few months have seen big changes for Graves. On Dec. 27 he was called up for his first NHL game with the Avalanche. He was acquired by the Avs franchise in a trade during the 2017-2018 season. At the time this story was written Graves had played in 26 games and had scored three goals and two assists.
He hasn’t seen the ice as much in recent games as he previously had as he’s been the seventh D on the roster – and before that he was in and out of the lineup – but Graves continues to enjoy and make the most of his NHL experience. He says his approach hasn’t changed from how he started out.
“It’s still the same thing, keeping it a simple game, reliable. Not trying to do too much, just sticking to what has got me here. I think that’s something I have to keep reminding myself and is always going to be key to my success,” he says. “But it’s been good. It’s been a learning experience. There’s been ups and downs but overall it’s been an awesome experience.”
On March 25 (the day this story was written) the Avalanche sat in the second wildcard playoff position after climbing their way up the standings. A four-game winning streak and a regulation tie had helped with this. “There’s an intensity and it keeps building each game where the playoffs are getting closer and closer,” Graves says. “It’s a playoff atmosphere even though it’s still regular season, because a loss to the wrong team can pretty much put you out of contention.”
It’s not just the on-ice experience that Graves is enjoying. He’s also happy to be taking part in off-ice initiatives, including events that involve children. One such event was the Charity Brunch Fashion Show, an event that pairs children affected by serious illness with members of the Avalanche team and includes their families and generous donors.
“The kids were so awesome,” Graves says. “You see what it meant to the parents. It’s a day that kids can get out of their everyday battles and have fun and just kind of let loose for a little bit and enjoy themselves and feel like a celebrity. It was really cool.”
Another initiative involved bringing out some elementary-aged kids onto the ice who had never been on skates before.
“I like that doing that kind of stuff. I like kids and they’re always fun. It’s really refreshing,” says Graves, who is looking forward to his hockey school in Yarmouth this summer.
“I’ve scheduled it so I can be with the kids every session,” he says. “I’ll be running everything hands on. There won’t be any time that I’m absent from it. I’ll be there every session and at every point of the day.”