MINNEAPOLIS — Sammy Walker cannot accurately count the number of summer hockey camps he attended as a kid, while growing up in the Twin Cities. The many, many on-ice drills he did all kind of blur together when he thinks back to that era of his adolescence. But certain things about summer hockey camps still stand out in the mind of the Minnesota Gophers men’s hockey captain.
“Growing up in mites, squirts and peewees, I’ve been to tons of camps,” Walker said. “It was always the ones that had the fun outdoor stuff that stood out to me. That’s definitely something that the kids will be doing at my camp.”
The concept of a current student-athlete talking about “my camp” didn’t exist two months ago. But thanks to a life-long goal of Walker’s, and some new NCAA rules giving college athletes more freedom, the first two Sammy Walker Hockey Camp sessions will happen this month in the Twin Cities. The camp’s namesake promises that off-ice fun like tag, dodgeball and kickball will be part of the appeal.
At the end of the last college hockey season, the idea of a current Gopher (or Husky, or Beaver, or Bulldog, etc.) putting their name on a camp was a no-no under the NCAA’s extensive rulebook. All that changed on June 30, 2021, when athletes, for the first time, were allowed to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness. It means that players can make money off endorsements while still playing college sports.
Walker acted quickly once the new rules came down, putting the camp together, booking ice time (2.5 hours each day for camp attendees) and getting Gophers teammates like Jack Perbix, Jonny Sorenson and Jack LaFontaine to help on the ice.
While some have predicted that under the new rules, high-profile athletes like the quarterback at Alabama or the starting point guard at Duke could literally make millions, the endorsement offers sent to players like Walker and his teammates have been more low-key so far.
“I’ve had a few people reach out, just smaller opportunities to post something and they’ll give you something in return,” Walker said. “For me personally, I don’t see any point in that when I can run my own camp, build my own brand, meet kids and do it that way. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Walker, who has also worked at dozens of hockey camps, will host his own version over three days starting Aug. 16, at Richfield Ice Arena. A second three-day Sammy Walker Hockey Camp will be held starting Aug. 23 at Cottage Grove Ice Arena. The Richfield camp, which Walker noted is already close to capacity, is for players ages 7-12. There are currently more openings in Cottage Grove, which is open to ages 7-14. Full details and registration information is available at sammywalkerhockey.com as well as at Walker’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds.
Two summers ago, Walker could be found on the ice at 3M Arena at Mariucci, and outside leading spirited games of dodgeball, working at a camp that former Gophers star Ryan Potulny ran. No longer hosting his own camp, Potulny gave Walker’s camp his strongest endorsement.
“I think he’ll be great. He’s really good working with kids,” said Potulny, who retired in 2018 after 126 games in the NHL. “Sammy’s just got that bubbly personality. He can relate to anyone and, with kids, he gets down on their eye level. Some kids just do it for the money, but Sammy is out there to really relate to the kids and make sure they have fun.”
Walker, who turned 22 in June, will be a third-year captain of the Gophers in 2021-22 and is a draft pick of the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The 2018 Mr. Hockey winner at Edina, he is also the Gophers’ top returning scorer, having put up 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points in 31 games last season.
But in the nearer term, Walker will be the guy with the whistle that a bunch of youth hockey boys and girls look up to on and off the ice in August.
“It’s awesome to see people sign up, and the comments I’ve seen have been really exciting,” said Walker, who admits springing into action once the NCAA rule changed. “I guess we never really thought they’d go through with it. So it was kind of at the last minute that I thought I’d try to do it this summer. I’m super excited for it, and I think the kids will really like it.”