Smith, Bonino attend pro hockey camp in preparation for upcoming NHL season

Avon's Ben Smith of the San Jose Sharks moves in on a breakaway during a scrimmage Friday at Newington Arena.

Avon’s Ben Smith of the San Jose Sharks moves in on a breakaway during a scrimmage Friday at Newington Arena.

NEWINGTON, Aug. 21 – Hockey camps aren’t just for youngsters.

Five National Hockey League players from Connecticut and several professional and collegiate athletes spent the past week at the Pete Asadourian Pro Hockey Camp at the Newington Arena. The week was capped off with a spirited one-hour scrimmage for the general public on Friday night before an estimated 500 fans.

Avon’s Ben Smith of the San Jose Sharks attended the camp for the first time this year along with Farmington’s Nick Bonino of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who attended for the 11th year.

“Pete puts on a pretty good camp here and it culminates with a pretty good game on Friday night,” Bonino said.

It’s an opportunity to stretch your legs and play in front of family and friends. Other NHL players in attendance included Bolton’s Ron Hainsey of the Carolina Hurricanes, Wethersfield’s Colin McDonald of the Philadelphia Flyers and former Connecticut Whale standout Kris Newbury, who signed a minor league deal with Los Angeles’ top farm club and has played 76 NHL games with the New York Rangers, Toronto, Detroit and Philadelphia. 

“It’s nice to get back on the ice,” Smith said. “I haven’t skated too much in the last few weeks. With a month to go (before preseason workouts), it’s time to work hard and get ready for the season.”

Avon's Ben Smith drives on the net in a scrimmages at Newington Arena Friday.

Avon’s Ben Smith drives on the net in a scrimmages at Newington Arena Friday.

Asadourian began hosting this pro hockey camp over a decade ago in Cromwell to prepare pro players and those with professional or college aspirations to compete. The camp has been at the Newington Arena for the last few years. “It’s the favorite week of the year for me,” said Asadourian, the owner of Future Fitness in Newington and the camp director. “They’re all good guys.”

Keith Allain, coach of Yale University’s 2013 NCAA Division I championship squad, conducted morning workouts for the players on the ice. There were dryland drills, weight and strength training, agility drills and yoga available for the participants.

There is also a guarantee of 10 hours on the ice during the warmest months of the year.

“You have to get out there (on the ice) and feel the puck and the puck is not your friend at first,” Hainsey said. “It’s all part of the (preparation) process.” For most players, NHL training camps open in mid-September. For Smith, training camp in San Jose opens in less than a month on September 19.

Asadourian’s camp ended with a scrimmage on Friday night and the players separated into two teams – red and black. There were 19 goals scored, including a sharp goal from Smith in the final seconds of the contest off a feed from Bonino.

Bonino had several goals and assists but his Red team fell to the Black team, 12-7. But there were plenty of fast skating, nice passes and hard skating. Players and fans smiled alike. Afterward, players signed autographs.

Bonino was the captain of the Red team and Smith was his alternative captain. “We like to have a good time out there and work hard,” Smith said. “It’s fun playing people from the area and players that you grew up playing against.”

West Hartford's Jordan Samuels Thomas, who played in the AHL for Rochester last season, signs an autograph for a fan.

West Hartford’s Jordan Samuels Thomas, who played in the AHL for Rochester last season, signs an autograph for a fan.

Proceeds from the event went to the Northeast Sled Hockey team, an organization of athletes with lower limb mobility impairments. The Northeast squad will host a regional tournament at Newington Arena on Sept. 26-27.

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