Columbia Valley Hockey School owners and head instructors (left to right) Brett Ponich, Chris Bruton and Kevin Noble have plans to expand the local hockey culture.  Photo by Nikki Fredrikson

Columbia Valley Hockey School owners and head instructors (left to right) Brett Ponich, Chris Bruton and Kevin Noble have plans to expand the local hockey culture.Photo by Nikki Fredrikson

Columbia Valley Hockey School owners Chris Bruton,Kevin Noble and Brett Ponich are working hard to instill young athletes in the community with a passion for hockey. The trio first took over as owners of the hockey school last year and have transformed it into a full-service hockey camp.

We want the parents to be able to come here, drop their kids off, know theyre taken care of, theyre always looked after. Theyre fed, hydrated and when they pick them up, the kids all have a smile and theyre ready to go to bed, said Mr. Bruton.

The owners, all with professional experience, bring their passion and dedication to the sport to each camp. Wanting to build the passion for the game and work ethic of these young athletes, the trio is hands-on as head instructors for the program.

We have a lot of games to try and keep it fun and then our Fridays are our Tim Hortons Professional Game Day so that they can get a taste of what its like to be in the professional game. Hopefully, that fuels them to keep working, said Mr. Ponich.

The hockey school has 11 instructors, all who have previous professional experience, taking the kids through drills, dry land training, hockey talks, and games. To maximize the instruction, class sizes are kept down to ensure every participant has time with an instructor and room on the ice. The five to eight age category has a limit of 30 students and the age groups over eight years old hit capacity at 23 athletes.

Everybody (instructing) not only do they have to have played a high level of hockey, they also have to be good with the kids, be able to communicate what theyre trying to teach, said Mr. Ponich.

As the program grows, the three owners hope to build up the hockey culture in Invermere by including opportunities for Ju-nior players, AHL players and NHL players the chance to skate in the evenings.

Were trying to create this culture of hockey in the summer so that NHL guys who vacation here want to be in the area, Junior A kids dont have to move away to train. We really want to grow it here in Invermere, we want to try to involve as much of the community as possible, said Mr. Ponich.

The Columbia Valley Hockey School has teamed up with Tim Hortons, Sobeys, Copper Point Golf, Copper Point Resort and Cross Check Clothing as its major sponsors, as well as sponsorships from Howies Hockey Tape, Kady Hobbins and Columbia Valley Rockies. Sponsorships help provide this program to the community and the owners hope they can further strengthen the hockey culture with local sponsors in the future.

We want to have a community hockey school that everyone benefits from, said Mr. Noble.

This summer, athletes attending the summer camps have been getting instruction from NHL players Adam Cracknell and Mason Raymond, an opportunity that camp participants have access to because of the owners own hockey careers. Having played professionally, theyre able to bring in NHL players to coach and speak to the kids about their careers.

They can interact with the kids, they can be right in their face, grabbing them, wrestling them. The other day, one kid came in and snowed (Adam Cracknell) jokingly. Adam threw off his gloves and pretended to beat him up. Cool moments like that. When does a nine year old in Invermere get a chance to get a pretend fight with an NHL player? Thats a cool experience that will hopefully fuel their love of the game, said Mr. Ponich.

The Columbia Valley Hockey School is about much more than just working on developing the young players hockey skills. The program gives kids training to be successful in life with instruction on public speaking, nutrition, and plyometric workouts. The instructors believe in working them hard, but also giving the kids opportunities to have fun. Bringing in fire trucks to learn about firefighting, having relay races and offering the chance to soak their instructors with the fire hose, the camp balances education and summer fun.

One of the biggest things is just having fun and really wanting to come to the rink and having the passion to play the game, said Mr. Bruton.

Columbia Valley Hockey School camps run the last week of July to the second week of August, with camps available for athletes ages five to 19 at any skill level. To learn more about the camps, visit www.columbiavalley