Dobson double-booked with NHL camps
Vail is a popular place for the male-bonding trip. You know, get a little exercise, sit down for a few cold ones with the fellas, tell and embellish stories from the hill, and leave all those real-world troubles behind. For NHL players, Vail and more precisely Dobson Ice Arena seems to serve the same purpose with one minor difference: they get paid for it.This year Dobson will play host to two more NHL teams searching for high-altitude training and good, old-fashioned team chemistry. Sept. 13-17, the famed Montreal Canadiens will be in town hoping to jump start their season in Vail the way the Dallas Stars did before their Stanley Cup run of 1998-99. Five days later, the Florida Panthers arrive, training at Dobson Sept. 23-26. This will be the first time the arena has hosted two teams in one year, and it could have been more."The Philadelphia Flyers wanted to come and we didn’t have room for it," Dobson director Jim Heber says. "We can only do so much. I don’t want to interrupt the Vail Junior Hockey program."Former Vail and Beaver Creek owner George Gillett bought the Canadiens in early 2001, and according to Montreal vice president of communications Donald Beauchamp, Vail resident Gillett is always interested in what’s best for his team. In this case, it’s training in a high-altitude environment.”Over the past 10 years, three teams have won the Stanley Cup that have trained at high altitude,” Beauchamp says, alluding to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Stars, who trained in Vail, and the Colorado Avalanche, who train in Colorado Springs. “Is it only a coincidence? One has to wonder.”Guy Carbonneau, now special assistant to the general manager in Dallas, was an assistant coach with the Canadiens the last two seasons and a member of the 1999 Cup champion Stars that came to Vail.”Guy mentioned how important it was to train at high altitude,” Beauchamp says. “Last year we had a lot of success based on the team concept, so we really emphasized that. By starting at high altitude in Vail we feel it will give us a good head start on the season. And we hear they have great training facilities and it’s also a great community.”Panthers director of media relations Randy Sieminski agrees. “We’ve got a lot of young guys,” Sieminski says. “From the facilities to the place to the benefits of high-altitude training, it’s a great way to get the team away as a group.”For hockey fans in Vail, the chance to watch NHL competition in a local, intimate setting is becoming a late-summer ritual. Still, Dobson’s Heber says a visit by the 24-time Stanley Cup champion Canadiens is unique."It’s a big honor," Heber says. "It’s really neat that a team of that stature is coming here. They’re one of the original six teams. When the Stars were here after they won the Cup, it was huge media. This time you’ll probably see a lot of French-speaking media, which will be interesting. And they’re bringing a full compliment of players, 45 to 50 guys."Indeed, Beauchamp says you can expect to see a dozen or more Montreal journalists, including TV crews. Think the Yankees holding spring training at the Ford Athletic Fields.The physical benefits of working out at altitude are enough to attract NHL teams to Vail, but the chance to get the players away from home and spending time as a team is as much a draw as thin air. For Panthers coach Mike Keenan, the trip to Vail is an opportunity for his young team to bond and forget the day-to-day life responsibilities that come with being at home in South Florida."Mike enjoyed Vail so much when he went with the St. Louis Blues that he wanted to go back," says the Panthers’ Sieminski. "It’s a great way to get the team away as a group, and he feels it helps with the socialization of the team. If you’re at home, you have so many off-ice things to deal with. If you go away, it’s all about hockey."Beauchamp says the Montreal players are looking forward to the trip to Vail and, like the Panthers, Montreal sees more value to the trip than just ice time.”The players are very excited about it, having camp all together as a group in a beautiful community,” he says. “And they realize the importance of training at altitude. They’re very excited about going to Vail.”And hoping to build on last season, when the team made a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs.According to Heber, Dobson has seen eight or nine NHL visits over the years, but has never hosted back-to-back camps leading into the same season."We’ve never done two in one year so it’s going to be a challenge," he says. "They will pretty much consume the whole facility. We have a good reputation with the teams that have been here and word has traveled."
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