By Adia Waldburger
The Park Record
PARK CITY, Utah – It wasn’t the kind of elite athletes the Park City Ice Arena is used to welcoming to their rink.
For four days last week, the entire U.S. men’s alpine ski team tested their skills on the ice in a hockey camp led by Utah Grizzlies head coach Jason Christie and former NHL-er Andre Faust.
The camp is part of a week’s worth of testing and training for the U.S. team that also includes swimming, Pilates and team-building activities. The evaluation is one of three that take place every year to determine the team’s fitness level throughout the year.
The use of hockey training was dreamed up by U.S. Ski Team coaches to give the men a better cardiovascular workout and build camaraderie. Men’s slalom and giant slalom head coach Sasha Rearick said that the team has been waiting a long time to run a hockey camp. He also said bringing the whole team together to test and train is something that has not happened in about seven years. The last two years only the younger guys would make the summer trek to dryland training, but Rearick said that the opportunity to focus on team bonding was paramount this year.
“When you do something different, you are out of your element and learn about the people you live and work with,” Rearick said.
Skating isn’t totally unrelated to alpine skiing. Christie explains that both are dependent on balance and edges and the skating helps improve an athlete’s accuracy, placement and body awareness.
“The fundamentals are very similar,” Rearick said
Even though all of the team members grew up in cold weather states, none of them have extensive hockey experience. A handful played junior hockey, but the knowledge stops there. Most of them have learned the game along the way, playing pickup games at World Cup stops in Europe, where there’s a rink in every town.
“For a lot of us it’s our first time in full pads,” downhiller Marco Sullivan said.
The camp is a far cry from a pickup game. Christie and Faust worked with the team twice a day, running demanding drills and intense three-on-three contests. At the end of each session, they were dripping in sweat.
“Our coach, at the beginning of the week, said, ‘there’s going to be game time and pain time,'” Sullivan said.
Still, considering the alternative of running in the 100-plus degree heat, the team refrained from complaining. It also gives the guys an opportunity to work together as a team.
“It’s a good team-building thing,” Sullivan said. “We’re used to competing as individuals.”
Faust said that despite working hard, the men were having fun.
“A lot of these guys enjoy playing,” Faust said. “They want us to make them better players.”
Christie and Faust designed the camp to teach skill development, including passing, shooting, skating and stick handling. Faust said that even though none of the men had illustrious hockey backgrounds, their competitiveness and athleticism helped them to pick things up quickly.
“The surface is different but it’s all about edges,” Faust said.
Christie also said that desire played a large part in the team getting the most out of the camp.
“It’s excellent to see how they get around so well,” Christie said. “They pay attention and just want to get it right.”
Christie also sees similarities between the ski team and his team. He jumped at the chance to work with the skiers to help build bridges between two of the state’s more prominent sports entities.
“It’s a great opportunity just to be able to work with these guys,” Christie said.
He also wanted to scout out the rink and the Park City area as a future site for Grizzlies training camp.
“It’s a great facility,” Christie said.
For more information on the training and competition schedules of all of the team, visit www.usskiteam.com.