Shjon Podein adds Instant Credibility: NHL player’s involvement shows KC Ice Center hockey programs are legit

Shjon Podein played 13 seasons in the National Hockey League. He won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2000-2001. He grew up in Rochester, Minnesota, where one of his buddies was Dean Nelson, now the general manager of the Kansas City Ice Center.

When Nelson came to the Kansas City area six years ago, he faced an uphill battle in growing youth hockey. He decided one of the best ways to do that was to enhance the camps and clinics schedule. There were fewer than 50 kids involved at the time. The number approached nearly 500 this summer.

Nelson knew hockey is mostly a series of one-on-one battles, so he decided a camp devoted to teaching kids how to win those battles would be a key part of his camp strategy. He created Battle Camp, and in one of the most strategic decisions he’s made in his six years, he invited his old friend to join him.

“When I first thought of the camp six years ago, I thought there would be nobody better than my good friend, Shjon Podein,” Nelson said. “Not only were we buddies from a long time ago, he had ‘battled’ his way through the ranks of high school hockey, junior hockey and college hockey to get to the professional ranks.

“He was one of those guys who was skilled and worked hard, but he had never been given the accolades that he was going to make it to the top. He was a third-line grinder who had to work hard for everything he got. When we were in high school, he would run past my house in training. The other kids had no idea what he was doing or why he was doing it.

“The minute I asked him, he said yes. I thought he’d come down here and see what we had, maybe 15 or 20 kids who might be putting their right skate on their left foot, and say he would come back when we had improved. He saw the passion and effort of the kids, and that really inspired Shjon to make it an annual stop.”

Shjon Podein says he “saw himself” at the KCIC, but not in the kids as much as in the program.

“I always had the mentality like the old saying, ‘the harder you work the luckier you’ll be.’ I worked harder than the guy next to me every day. I definitely wasn’t the most talented guy, so I tried to hold onto that philosophy. I worked hard and got ‘lucky’ enough to enjoy hockey for a long time at the professional level.

“I really didn’t know if I would ever make it in the NHL. Then I got a shot when our team in Edmonton was very bad. They kept giving minor leaguers a chance to go up and play. I was the eighth guy called up and I got into a game. I got a goal in the first period in which I played. The weight kind of came off, and I came of the understanding that the NHL was simpler than minor league hockey. In the NHL, everyone has a role, and you just have to do your role. If you do it well, you have a chance to stick.

“I think it was my fifth year in the NHL, when Philadelphia gave me a chance to be an everyday player that I really felt I could play at that level.”

Shjon Podein knows hard work pays off, and he sees that with Nelson and the KCIC staff. They’re fighting a battle—there’s that word again—to make a dent in the landscape of Kansas City youth sports. Only hard work and time will achieve success.

But he thinks the Ice Center is on the right track.

“It’s a lot like Japan,” Podein said. “I played there the last year before I retired. Hockey is not the top sport over there, but the people who were involved had a very strong passion, maybe stronger than those who were involved in other sports that were more popular. That’s like Kansas City. I came there because of Dean, but I’ve come back now for six years because of the kids and families I have met, and the passion they have to play hockey. I come back every year, and it’s my favorite trip each year.

“I come down there and see kids having fun playing hockey. I see families who are very passionate about giving their kids that opportunity. It can become a little bit overwhelming in Minnesota, where hockey is everywhere. In Kansas City, it’s not the No. 1 sport, but the people who are there are there because they love the sport.”

Shjon Podein is not surprised that Nelson has achieved success, in spite of the long odds.

“I’ve known Dean since we were both knee-high to a grasshopper,” he said. “Nobody works harder than Dean Nelson. He’s done a tremendous job. They’re lucky to have a guy like that with the passion that he brings.”

Nelson said the KC Ice Center is fortunate to have the commitment of Podein because of his passion and his platform.

“The major thing is that a guy like that would take the time to travel down here to be a part of things,” Nelson said. “He’s putting his time into hockey in this area. He sees the effort that we put in. He’s not here to recruit kids or to help his home area. He’s here for the fun of the game. He sees that that’s why we’re all here. We’re trying to make hockey in the area a viable option for the kids.

“Him coming year after year gives us credibility. It’s a strong camp that’s structured right and done correctly. If Shjon didn’t come, people might wonder if our camp had slipped a bit. Being friends is not enough.

If he came down here and saw that it was a poorly run camp, or it was poorly attended, he wouldn’t keep coming. He takes pride in what he does, and that’s what he does with our camp. He sees excellence in the product.”

Shjon Podein knows it is going to take time for Kansas City to reach the level of youth hockey of Minnesota, or even St. Louis. But he thinks that day is coming.

“Dean has taken his teams to other areas to show them what the next level looks like,” he said. “He’s shown them what those players and programs are doing to get better. Maybe they’re skating 10 more hours per month. There are a lot of things that Dean has brought back to this program that the families have embraced to reach another level. I’ve seen that in the quality of play overall, and in the higher-end players. The numbers of high-end players are growing, as well as the numbers for the entire program.

“I see more of a wanting for more from the families. Dean has been a driving force behind that. People are seeing that the more they’re there, the more opportunity they have to get on the ice, the better they get and the more fun the game is.

“It’s a snowball effect. Before, they were doing it because it was fun. Now, they just can’t get enough. They just want more, because the passion is stronger.”

For more information on the Learn to Skate and Learn to Play Hockey Programs, public sessions, adult hockey, clinics and camps, parties, leagues and more, call 913-441-3033 or visit www.KCIceCenter.com.

For more youth hockey coverage visit: http://kcsportspaper.com/category/youth-sports/

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Article by David Smale

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