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Planet Hockey Vice President Steve Strunk, left, fakes shooting a backhand down the ice as hockey campers cheer him on Wednesday at the Mitchell Activities Center in Mitchell. (Nick McCutcheon/Republic)

Mitchell welcomes Planet Hockey

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Mitchell welcomes Planet Hockey
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Planet Hockey Vice President Steve Strunk said Mitchell has shown a passion for the sport this week with the reception of the company’s camp at the Mitchell Activities Center.

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The camp has been in session since Monday at the MAC on the second sheet of ice, which was completed less than one year ago.

“It’s been great, with this being a first-time camp in Mitchell, to see the excitement there is for hockey here,” Strunk said. “It’s something new and different and I think the kids enjoy not having to travel far for a camp.”

The current session for the camp runs through Friday and was brought to Mitchell for the through the effort of the Mitchell Skating and Hockey Association. The camp includes 96 players from 5 years old to the varsity level.

MSHA board member Al Huls spearheaded bringing Planet Hockey to Mitchell after his son attended a similar camp held by the company in Rapid City in 2011.

“Having the summer ice now, and having a son who has gone through the program before, I thought it would be a great opportunity to bring this camp here and to hopefully keep summer hockey going,” Huls said.

There are a handful of cities in South Dakota that have summer ice, and according to Huls, the advantage is clear when teams from those areas compete in league play and tournaments in the winter months. The older sheet of ice at the MAC is removed in the summer, but the new second sheet is available for hockey players year-round.

The focus of the camp is to offer total player development, including shooting, passing, stick handling and technical skating. Huls said there are kids at the camp from around South Dakota and from several other states, including Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska.

“For each kid in the camp, we try to break the game down for them to understand what it is they are doing well and what they may need to work on,” Strunk, who is from Golden, Colo., and played Division I college hockey at Colorado College, said. “It’s a good opportunity for the kids to get an outside assessment of things they might not see.”

Planet Hockey, which is based in Superior, Colo., has coaches from all over the world, including Sweden, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Strunk said the international ideas and training methodology give young North American hockey players a different perspective.

“The kids really get excited about going home and telling their parents that they had a coach from Sweden working with them,” Strunk said.

Strunk and his coaches have worked with kids across the country and in Europe. He added that South Dakota, while not an established hockey stronghold, is becoming a source of talent and love for the sport.

“Hockey is definitely growing throughout the U.S., but in South Dakota it’s becoming more and more popular,” Strunk said. “Without question, there are great players in South Dakota.”

The camps have been held in Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Pierre. Mitchell will hopefully become a permanent stop for Planet Hockey, according to Strunk. He said there has already been talks of coming back to the MAC for another camp July 14-18 to give players that may be participating in other activities this week an chance to experience the camp. Strunk said the July camp will be a different style of camp to give those players looking to come back after this week a chance to learn new skills.

The cost of the Planet Hockey camp is normally $459, but the MSHA was able to help with the cost of ice time this week to bring the cost down to $299. If the company decides to come back this summer for another clinic, the cost for campers who participated this week and come back will be cut even more.

“The camp was discounted based on the Mitchell community wanting to make things affordable so more kids could experience this,” Strunk said.

Strunk, who has been working with Planet Hockey for 14 years, had a bit of fun with the players at the end of an evening session Wednesday. Standing at one end of the ice, he wagered that he could lift the puck into the open net with his backhand in the air while staring and pointing at the other end of the ice. After 30 seconds of getting the players to try and distract him, Strunk simply turned and easily dropped the puck into the net three feet behind him. The players then had to take a few laps with smiles on their faces, knowing they had a fast one pulled on them.

“That won’t work the next time we come here because the kids will know,” Strunk said.