WESLEY CHAPEL — When Gordie Zimmermann traveled to Canada last summer to attend an advanced hockey camp with his son, what he saw amazed him: five days of training and tournaments, book-ended by a mock draft and closing ceremony, all aimed at pushing highly skilled youth players to the professional level.
"We said 'Wow, this is the kind of camp we would love to have in the South,' " Zimmermann said.
On Wednesday, he and others announced that they had gotten their wish.
The newly constructed Florida Hospital Center Ice, of which Zimmermann is managing partner, will play host to the V-Red Prospects Advanced Camp from July 16 to 20.
This will be the first year the 16-year-old camp, which got its start in Fredericton, New Brunswick, is held in the United States. The camp has two age categories — those born between 1998 and 2002 and those between 2003 and 2005 — and the Center Ice staff expects a minimum of 144 youth hockey players from the United States, Canada and Europe to fill four teams within each category. The cost to attend is $1,150, which includes meals and accommodations at the Saddlebrook Resort.
The news comes on the heels of USA Hockey's announcement in May that the U.S. women's national hockey team will move its headquarters to Center Ice and train there in preparation for the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Joining Zimmermann to announce the V-Red Prospects news Wednesday morning were former Tampa Bay Lightning player Brian Bradley, vice president of community affairs for the Lightning; former Lightning player Dave Andreychuk; camp co-founder Gardiner MacDougall, and Lightning broadcaster Brian Engblom.
Among the benefits of bringing the camp to central Pasco County is keeping talent local, they said.
"We'd like to keep our kids in the state of Florida," said Andreychuk.
Too often, kids feel they have to leave the area to train and get noticed by professional scouts. This camp will give them an opportunity to do both, keeping them on track to advancing their hockey careers, he said.
Alumni from the program include St. Louis Blues goaltender Jake Allen, St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz, Philadelphia Flyers center Sean Couturier and New York Rangers center Kevin Hayes.
MacDougall said the organization decided to make the move to Florida as a way to reach more kids and extend operations in new areas. The decision was made, he said, after talking with Zimmermann last summer and hearing about Florida Hospital Center Ice, the $22.5 million, five-rink ice sports facility completed in January and billed as the largest facility of its kind in the southeast United States.
When he got here, MacDougall said, he wasn't disappointed. He saw four of five rinks filled with skaters and the facility buzzing with activity during a time of year when other facilities in the United States and Canada see little.
There also is a wide range of local business partners backing the camp.
For MacDougall, it spells out what he said could be a bright future for the camp and Wesley Chapel.
"I think in the future it can be a place of destination for high-level players," he said.
Contact Chris Bowling at email@example.com or at (813) 435-7308. Follow @chrismbowling.