Until this week, 10-year-old Jordan Wilson and 11-year-old Cole DuBois had never met a National Hockey League player. By Friday, they will have spent more than 12 hours with one.
Alain Lemieux, who played six years in the NHL with time on the St. Louis Blues and Quebec Nordiques, is spending the week in Craig instructing local hockey players in the techniques of the sport that his surname is synonymous with.
"(Lemieux) said that if we're here Friday, we'll get his autograph," Wilson said. "It's pretty cool that he would come all the way to Craig to teach us."
Lemieux, whose younger brother, Mario, is the current NHL scoring leader, started the Alain Lemieux Hockey School in 1997 and the Orlando-based school travels around North America to instruct hockey players young and old.
"We try to see as many kids as we can," Lemieux said. "Everywhere the response has been great for the school."
The president of the Craig Youth Hockey League, Mike Boatright, said the opportunity to have Lemieux come to Craig was one that he had been hoping to do for a while.
"We wanted to get a big-name camp here that was still affordable for everyone," he said. "We're probably just barely going to break even, but the knowledge that he brought and the opportunity to have it in town where the adults can also make the camp made it worth the cost."
On each night there are three sessions with one for youth, high school and adults. Lemieux spends five to six hours on the ice every night instructing.
"I was raised on the ice," said the Montreal native. "This is what I love to do and helping others love and learn about the game is rewarding."
Wilson, DuBois and Christian Pettigrew, 10, all agreed that they have learned significant skills at the camp.
"He's teaching us stuff that our coaches might not know," DuBois said.
"He has also helped the better skaters a lot when we thought we were as good as we could get almost," Pettigrew said.
Bringing camp to towns that don't have the opportunities to send their children to big-time camps is what Lemieux is striving for. He said that he will normally come to a town in the late fall or early winter and then return several months later to see the improvements.
"Just like any other sport, it is a progression of learning more skills," he said. "By coming back, we can keep the advancement going."
This year, the former NHL forward said he will be in Craig once, but would like to come back.
"I've been impressed by the facilities for the size of Craig," he said. "It would be great to come back twice next year and I'd like to see if I could have some of the players to come to Orlando in the summer for a camp."
Boatright said he was pleased with how the week turned out and that he would like to see what the options are for the future with the school.
"He definitely knows what he's doing and we've been fortunate to have him here," he said. "It was great that Craig Parks and Rec. let us have the ice to ourselves this week and maybe we can do it again in the future."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about Alain Lemieux Hockey School go to www.icehockeyskills.com
What's next at the rink
Intro to Skating and Hockey
A new program designed to introduce the novice to skating and hockey without the higher cost of joining a league. The fee is $25, which will apply to the house league fee if the student decides to play in that league. There will be a total of five one-hour practices. Gear will be provided. Skates area also available for $1 per practice. Lessons begin Nov. 12 and continue on the Nov. 14, 19, 21 and 26. All sessions begin at 5:15 p.m. For more information call the Ice Arena at 824-3011 or Mike Boatright at 824-2046.