Gladiator brings hockey camp to Gwinnett

DULUTH - Raised in a single-parent home, Dan Sullivan couldn't afford to go to formal hockey camps in the summer.

Maybe if he had, Sullivan says, he wouldn't have needed to use his fists to make it to the professional ranks.

But maybe if he had, Sullivan wouldn't have felt the need to now help kids in a similar situation.

A fan favorite who collected 164 penalty minutes and 22 points playing 70 games for the Gwinnett Gladiators last season, Sullivan created the "Come and Get It" hockey school five years ago.

It started in Augusta, primarily to help grow the game in a non-traditional hockey market, and this year includes two sessions at the IceForum in Duluth. The first was this week and they'll be back Aug. 3 to 7.

"The camp in Augusta was to get kids to participate in hockey, to get them involved," Sullivan said. "Which in turn would hopefully get them to support their pro hockey team and get them interested in the game."

But Sullivan and his primary partner in the enterprise, speed-skating instructor Kyle Jones, found some families couldn't handle the cost.

"Not knowing the sport, a lot of people have a hard time dealing with $350, $400 for a week of school," Sullivan said. "Having skates and all the equipment to buy, then their league registration, a lot of parents can't afford any extra activities.

"So basically we decided to do a sponsorship program where if local people in the community wanted to help out for a kid to attend camp, we would pay the ice costs through their donations."

The first year in Augusta, 17 kids enrolled. By the third year, that number more than tripled. The "Come and Get It" school now includes stops throughout North America. Sullivan brings it to whichever city he's playing in - provided there's a practice rink available.

Jones, a full-time personal hockey instructor, set up several camps in the Toronto area. The third piece of the school's triumvirate, Sean McMorrow, spent four years playing for Rochester of the American Hockey League. Like Sullivan, McMorrow has made a career as an enforcer - which also endears him to the home crowd and helped make the camps in Rochester successful.

Even the name of the school comes from how Sullivan and McMorrow play the game.

"Pretty much when guys used to want to ask us to (fight), we'd just tell them to come and get it, you know," Sullivan said.

But they also share the bond of being raised by single parents.

"All three of us, Sean, Kyle and myself, are from single-parent families," Sullivan said. "That's how we became really good friends.

"We never got to have a typical camp ever. I think if I would have had a camp, maybe I wouldn't have been just an enforcer, maybe I would have been able to score more goals, maybe I would have been a better skater. But not having the extra ice time and the camp direction ..."

So he aims to see that doesn't happen to other young players.

"There's 10 kids here that probably wouldn't get a chance to do a summer camp this year otherwise," Sullivan said.

Sullivan, frank as always, understands there are more prestigious hockey schools out there.

"But we feel like we're a good camp, and what you see in our games throughout the year is what we try to give to the kids - that's our passion for hockey and our knowledge of what we've learned from other people and each other," he said.

The school, built on laudable ideas, is also a good value. Kids get three hours of ice time, a dry-land workout, a classroom session and two meals every day. For the camps in Duluth, they've also brought in Gladiators' goalie Josh Johnson and a number of pros have stopped by to talk to the kids. Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle and Atlanta Thrashers Eric Boulton and Chris Thorburn all came out.

"These (pros) all understand what it was like to want to have guys at their camp," Sullivan said. "We just wanted to give something back that we didn't have a chance to go to.

"Bringing in guys like Sean and Josh and guys that have been around the game, I mean, I would have loved to be at a camp like that."