It’s early Friday morning as Kelton Kellerman walks through the Independence Events Center parking lot, carrying a bag that is twice the size of the Missouri Mavericks Jr. Elite player.
“It’s pretty heavy,” Kellerman, 9, said, when asked about the bag of gear, “but I have so much fun playing hockey I don’t mind carrying it around.”
Kellerman was joining 50 other campers on the final day of the Missouri Mavericks Elite Youth Hockey Camp, which continues to grow under the leadership of former Mavericks standout Simon Watson, the team’s assistant director of player personnel and KC Mavs Elite coach.
“Simon makes it all fun,” Kellerman said. “We’ve been coming to the camp for so long that a lot of the kids couldn’t even skate when they started. Now they are playing on the (KC Mavs Elite) team. It's pretty cool how the Mavericks have helped us all get started in hockey.”
This year’s camp had an international flavor as 7-year-old Rain Yan and his friend Jason came from Beijing, China, to take part in the camp.
“That’s an interesting story,” said Community Ice manager and camp coach Chris Johnson. “Rain came over from Beijing last year to visit his brother Jerry (who was then a student at Johnson County Community College).
“Rain is one of the top young hockey players in Beijing. He attends a hockey academy/school where he is either in the classroom or on the ice, and they found out about our camp and Rain attended. This year, he came back and brought his friend Jason.”
Rain and Jason do not speak English, but Johnson said that is not a problem.
“We speak the international language of hockey,” Johnson said. “I make motions with my hands, or position my hands on a hockey stick or go to a certain place on the ice and the boys follow along. They are really good skaters.”
Jerry Yan, who is transferring to the University of Kansas, said the Mavericks camp is a highlight for his younger brother, who makes the annual trek from Beijing to visit him.
“Rain is a very, very good hockey player,” Jerry said, “and he learns a lot from this camp. He was so excited when we found out about it last year and this year, he asked his friend Jason to come with him.”
This is all part of a vision Watson and former Mavericks coach Scott Hillman had when the team arrived in Independence back in 2009.
“We had about six campers the first year,” Watson said, “and we had over 50 this week and we have hundreds of kids skating in the Jr. Mavs program. We’ve really made an impact in the area. And the best thing about the program is that the kids are learning while they’re having fun.
“It’s just so much fun laughing and working hard and watching them become hockey players,” said John-Scott Dickson, a forward on the Mavericks who is helping coach at the camp and, like Watson, was recently named to the Mavericks' All-Time Top 10 players list by the team's fans.
“What’s fun for me is watching a kid who came to the camp three or four years ago who could barely stand up on a pair of skates, go out and there and really skate,” Dickson said. “I know the kids are having fun, and when they’re having fun, we’re all having fun.”