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April 24, 2012 | 11:15am ET
Shaping hockey's future
 The Allstate All-Canadians Mentorship Program allows young hockey players to learn their from some of the NHL's best.

NEW YORK, NY -- To the casual fan, the NHL Players Association is an afterthought, and the work that goes into defending players' rights gets washed over in the headlines. The name "NHLPA" is almost synonymous with work stoppages, and ugly feuds, but for an unjust reason.

While it is a labor union to protect the players' rights, it's not run by a few Joe Hill like characters with the sole purpose of the ugliness often associated with the term Union. The NHLPA has the future of players, at every age in mind, and that is highlighted with their fantastic work with young athletes at the NHLPA's Allstate All-Canadians Mentorship Program.

The Program's sole purpose is to work with these young players, and show them what it takes to make it at the NHL level. They will be working with real Pros in real NHL drills to showcase their talents at a very young age. The program consists of three regionally located, mentorship camps for players aged 8-15. These programs will then culminate in the Allstate All-Canadians Mentorship Camp which will highlight 42 of the top bantam aged players across the country in a five-day, hard-working, high-octane camp run the NHLPA with the help of 21-year veteran, Stanley Cup Champion, and player trainer extraordinaire Gary Roberts, and a few NHL Players.

"Through Allstate All-Canadians, the NHLPA is committed to reaching Canadian youth and giving them the skills to make them better individuals, both in hockey and in life," explained Mike Ouellet, NHLPA Chief of Business Affairs in a press release.

"The latest program enhancements like the regional mentorship camps, the redesigned website, and tools to help manage school work and other interests with hockey, will provide greater learning to players and families across the country."

Once of the most unique aspects of the camp, is the strong focus on life outside of hockey. Being a professional athlete is unlike any other job, because it puts such a stringent emphasis on such a small specific area of your life. It often forces people to put things like family and school second, because it requires you to be so dedicated to your craft.

New York Rangers goaltender, and seasoned veteran Martin Biron, who will be an active participant in the camp for the second year in a row, explained that, "You learn not only about hockey as a sacrifice, but it combines that mental aspect with your family and friends."

He furthers the point by saying that, "combining hockey with school takes the game to a whole new level."

The mentorship camps, which are open to boys and girls at any level, rigorously emphasize basic areas of development like fitness, nutrition, and mental skills, as well as showing young athletes how to properly manage their time, and combine sports with school work and other outside interests.

Biron is not the only NHL player lending his support of the program. Jason Spezza, Luke Schenn, Jeff Skinner, Steve Stamkos and Stephen Weiss will all be there to assist and guide these young competitors.

The camp will also feature the second annual Allstate All-Canadians Mentorship Cup. Last year, Team Spezza won a thrilling shootout to capture the championship, in a game involving two squads made up of the 42 participants in the final camp. Rest assured, Spezza will be back to defend his title this year.

As Biron pointed out, this program is, "much more than a hockey school, it's a mentorship program."

The highlights from last year's camp for Biron, included teaching the young net-minders in a real-life NHL practice environment, and showing them many of the same drills he himself does.

"[We] had them look at what we do at a goalie practice at the NHL level, doing the same drills I do with [Henrik Lundqvist] and Rangers goaltender coach Benoit Allaire."

He also placed a big emphasis on all aspects of the program, and not just the final camp with the older players.

"You're helping the whole hockey community... hopefully these kids can continue through the program with us and ultimately come into the big camp in Toronto as men and women."

Roberts, who is the program ambassador, and very actively involved in the program knows that the NHLPA is doing a very important thing for the kids at such a young age, giving them the skills they need to succeed not only at hockey, but ultimately at life.

"Sharing my personal success story of the impact off-ice skills like fitness and nutrition had on my career in the NHL with the kids involved in the camp has been a rewarding experience, and I look forward to passing along those messages to an even greater number of Canadian minor hockey players," said Roberts in a press release. "I know that by working with our youth at the grassroots level, they can become confident individuals and further their athletic development."

Parents interested in getting their children, and they themselves involved in the program should visit to not only sign their young developing athletes up, but also to use the many resources they have available. The website contains content designed not only for a player, but also for everyone involved in his or her life. This is an incredibly valuable resource for any parent who has little to no knowledge of the sport, and just another amazing thing the NHLPA is doing for hockey players at all ages.

In an era where only the negative aspects of a lot of things are highlighted, it should not go unnoticed the effort that the NHLPA is putting into taking care of these young, potentially future stars.

Patrick Kearns is a Columnist for and the New York Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine.



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