WESLEY CHAPEL — As a 17-year-old Triple-A hockey player, MacCallum Brown regularly plays against elite talent. As a Palm Harbor resident, he often has to travel to face that talent.
"He's on a plane every other weekend going north," said his father, Hunter. "He played 60-some games last year, and none of them were in the state of Florida."
So Hunter, 48, was impressed with what he saw at the V-Red Prospects Advanced Camp last week at the Florida Hospital Center Ice complex. Young players from around the world played intense, high-speed games overseen by coaches with professional experience.
"I've never seen this much talent in one building in the state of Florida at this age level before," Hunter Brown said.
The annual camp was held for 16 years in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where Center Ice managing partner Gordie Zimmermann took his son for the camp last summer. When he asked V-Red about hosting the camp in Wesley Chapel, it was happy to take him up on the offer, V-Red president Roger Shannon said.
Most of the players have played at a high level; it's recommended that they have Double-A or Triple-A experience. That makes for higher-quality play, Zimmermann said.
"The talent that they have here is way different from the talent that we've had in past camps," said Molly Flanagan, 17, of Lutz. "It's just a nice competition, and it gives us the ability to get better and progress on some aspects that we don't normally have."
Separated into two groups by age — junior for those born from 1998-2002 and intermediate for those born from 2003-05 — the players received training and advice from former pros, including Darren Rumble, a defenseman whose eight-year NHL career included 24 games with the Lightning from 2002-04.
"This is the most professional camp I've been to," said Brendan Robbins, 14, of Odessa. "The coaching's great. How they set up the camp, the ice time, off-ice, and the presentations are all great."
On the third day of camp, the groups were set up with teams that drafted players and could trade them. Then came a tournament, with group play, a semifinal and a final. The players spent several hours each day on the ice.
The extended playing time stood out for Garry Margosian, 59, of Lutz. His son Vincent, 16, is playing in juniors and needs more experience against faster competition, he said.
"You get a lot of playing (time)," he said. "You're on the ice three, four times a day, and you're doing a lot of classroom sessions, too."
Drills targeted specific skills the players will need in higher levels, from keeping their balance when skating faster to taking the puck away from an opponent. That is rare, Zimmermann said.
"Some of these kids have never seen these drills," he said. "They come up on a cone, and they've got to jump off of this foot and land back on that foot, and then turn immediately — stuff like that, nobody's ever told them to do that."
The schedule is flexible, Shannon said. The staff can "pretty much predict at what point the kids are going to be exhausted, at what point they're going to get a second wind" and will adjust the regimen accordingly, he said.
In his experience with other hockey programs in Florida, Zimmermann said, there wasn't much competition.
"It was, like, 20 guys trying out, and one guy might get cut," he said.
So the players put in less effort, which meant they wouldn't reach their potential, he said.
"When you get this many kids together, now all of a sudden there's awards and things that are going to happen, everybody's fighting for a spot," he said. "Everybody wants to be noticed, and they start trying harder, and that really brings out the best in them."