By Bonnie Adams
Marlborough – Hockey is known primarily as a winter sport, but not at the New England Sports Center (NESC) in Marlborough. At this facility, located at the crossroads of routes 290 and 495, hockey is a sport played all year long, especially for the Boston Junior Bruins, who call the NESC home. And for the first time, this summer the program hosted a special four-day overnight boarding camp for 32 young players from July 17 to 21.
The Boston Junior Bruins team was formed in the early 1990s by Peter Masters – his sons, Chris and Peter, now run the program. Although not associated with the National Hockey League (NHL) team Boston Bruins, the Junior Bruins are an established elite program that has helped in the training and development of many high-caliber college players. Several Junior Bruins have even made it to the NHL, including two – Bobby Butler and Greg Mauldin – who served as guest coaches in the boarding camp program.
The program has four different levels, depending on the player's age and skills. There are also a number of special clinics and tournaments held during the year, such as the boarding camp.
According to Mike Anderson, the Junior Bruins coach, most of the kids in the boarding camp program were 8 to 13 years old and came from New England, although a few were from as far away as Dallas.
During the day, the kids worked on their on-ice skills with the coaches as well as some off-ice activities and team-building exercises. Each evening, they went back to the rink to participate in small games. At night, they returned to their accommodations at nearby Hillside School.
“It's great for the kids to have exposure to the NHL players,” Anderson said, “but it's not just when they are here on the ice – the coaches are hanging out with them all day. It helps the kids to aspire to be good players and know what's involved – whether it's college or beyond.”
Butler is a familiar name to local hockey fans. The former Marlborough High School standout played three seasons with the Boston Junior Bruins. He also had an outstanding collegiate career with the NCAA Division 1 University of New Hampshire Wildcats, where he was also a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top U.S. college hockey player. During 2010, he played for the American Hockey League (AHL) Binghamton Senators, where he helped the team win the Calder Cup (the AHL's championship). Butler also played for the NHL's Ottawa Senators, where he'sl be returning this fall.
Coming back to Marlborough to coach at the camp was “great,” he said.
“It's good to give back, because this organization is one of the ones that helped me to get where I am now,” he added. “I grew up playing here and I think that's good for kids to see that someone who played here can make it to the top levels. But what really matters is not where you are from – it's how hard you work at something you want.”
Mauldin, who is under contract with the NHL's Colorado Avalanche, agreed.
“I played in this program – it's really rewarding to give back. [The coaches] have been through this – we can relate to the kids and what they are going through; sometimes that's the best way to learn – from someone who has been through it,” he said.
Former Boston College star Ben Smith, who currently plays for the Chicago Blackhawks, was also a guest coach for the camp.
For more information, go to www.bostonjuniorbruins.com.