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The STX 68
It was in the midst of the 200x85 STX Tournament Series a few years back that Matt Hoppe, STX’s Ice Hockey Sales and Marketing Director, started thinking about his own youth hockey experience. Hoppe worked his way through Michigan’s youth hockey ranks and earned a Division I opportunity at the University of New Hampshire, where he played for four years.
He felt fortunate to have taken that path. But, as the son of two parents who hadn’t played hockey, he knew it could be tricky finding the right places to play – and the best competition to face – in order to be seen by the people who could make a collegiate opportunity a reality.
He got to talking with Kevin Mann, the President of 200x85, and the conversation took off.
"I called Kevin and said 'How can we create an opportunity for the top 14 year olds to help them navigate the hockey journey?'" Hoppe said. "There is so much confusing messaging coming at these players from major juniors, to scouts, to training requirements, to various leagues and teams reaching out to them. We wanted to figure out: can we get the best in the country together and give the players and their parents some free education on what might be headed their way?"
The STX 68 was born.
The STX 68 is the premier Bantam Major camp in America. Founded in 2014, the camp provides an opportunity for the top 68 14-year-old hockey standouts in the country to assess their skills, experience elite competition, and learn from some of the best coaches in the nation.
On-ice action at the 2018 STX 68.
That was the intention all along, Mann said.
“Before 68s, 15 years old was when these guys were first brought together for evaluation,” Mann said. “We thought there was an opportunity to get them in a year earlier, help them identify their strengths and weaknesses, and start honing their game.”
Bringing together some of the brightest minds and biggest talents in hockey, the 68s has featured instruction and inspiration from former NHL All-Stars like Martin St. Louis and Mike Richter, as well as head coaches from some of the top hockey programs in the country. And it’s all done without the fees typically attached to a camp of this nature.
2018 STX 68 attendees listening closely to speakers during the opening reception.
Financially, the STX 68 is the most affordable elite youth hockey camp in the country. In fact, it’s free to all attendees. All they have to do is get themselves to Chicago.
Eliminating the monetary aspect was a priority for STX, Mann and their teams from the very beginning of the camp, understanding that it can be a major limitation to assembling a true collection of the best talents.
“It was a free test for us to find out if our son could play hockey at that level,” said John Carpenter, whose son, Tyler, participated in the 2014 STX 68. “It was unique from a cost stand point. Not only was it inexpensive, but it also had a ton of inherent value because I could come back after and reinforce their points with him, ‘Here’s what you need to do, here’s what needs to happen to bring you to the next level.’”
Another top priority for STX and 200x85 as they worked through the logistics of the camp? Ensuring the athletes receive a pro-level experience focused on the skills they need to develop if they want to pursue a collegiate or professional hockey path.
On-ice coaching during the 2018 STX 68.
From the opening night reception, where family is invited to hear from former athletes and coaches about their own journeys in the sport, right through the final game on Sunday morning, the emphasis is on future development rather than immediate gratification. Ultimately, this is just the beginning for these players, and everything about the 68s is designed to demonstrate that.
40-yard dash test at the 2018 STX 68.
The entire experience is focused on building better players. Starting with total body measurements, the athletes receive data such as body fat percentage to identify where their fitness levels currently stand. After completing other off-ice assessments like the 40-yard dash, broad jump and pull up test, attendees are split into four teams where they’ll play in three competitive head-to-head games over the course of the weekend.
At the end of the weekend, each athlete receives a copy of their test results. This helps players identify key areas outside of their game that need improvement, and adjust their training regimen accordingly to make those improvements.
The Opportunity of a Lifetime
Outside of the resources, training, and data athletes receive as part of the camp, competition is the weekend’s biggest benefit.
For most, this is their first opportunity to truly stack up against other athletes in their age group – in front of scouts and coaches from the highest level. As a 14-year-old, college and career plans are rarely top of mind. But for these athletes, an early window to get in front of coaches, scouts and USA Hockey officials can change their lives.
Head-to-head action at the 2018 STX 68.
Just ask NHL legends Mike Richter and Martin St. Louis, both of whom have had sons participate in the STX 68.
“These kids know how to play the game and they’re very serious about taking it to the next level,” Richter said. “This is a great step to help them get there and certainly gives them a lot of exposure to be seen by college, junior and professional scouts.”
NHL legend Mike Richter presenting at the 2018 STX 68 opening reception.
It’s also one of their first opportunities to go head-to-head with this high level of competition within their age group.
“Most of these kids have been the best in their hometowns, maybe in their county or even state,” Richter said. “This takes them out of their small orbit and sets them up on a national platform.”
They’re also learning from one another.
“You might (see) another player wearing their pads differently, approaching the game differently,” Richter added. “And it challenges you to explore the ways you can change and grow your game.”
Ultimately, the camp isn’t just about shaping great hockey players. It’s about shaping young men.
“It’s an opportunity to understand the work ahead of them, as hockey players and as people, if they want to make it to that next level,” St. Louis said, highlighting that the camp is about more than mechanics. “At these camps, all the players have raw talent. All of them have worked hard. But to me, rule No. 1 on any team sport is being a good teammate. It’s not about you, it’s about the team and how you treat the people around you.”
On-ice celebrations at the 2018 STX 68.
The Future is Bright
For Tyler Carpenter, one of the original 68, hockey wasn’t just a game. It became his way of life. Tyler’s father, John, never played ice hockey, but he wasn’t going to let that stand in the way as his son developed a passion for the sport.
“Because I didn’t play, I continually made an effort to find avenues to surround [Tyler] with the best possible instruction we could get,” John said.
Tyler first hit the ice as an eager six-year-old wanting to make his mark. From his first skate, even John – a hockey novice -- could tell his son was a natural. As Tyler continued to grow, so did his success – he always stood out on the ice.
But it wasn’t until Tyler turned 14 that his parents realized their son’s true potential — when they finally understood that Tyler’s passion could lead him down a path toward the highest levels of the sport. That was when they got the call that Tyler was selected as one of the STX 68.
“His experience at the STX 68 was a huge part of taking him to the next level,” John said of his son. “I don’t want to say it was the only factor, but it was the beginning for sure. There’s no question about that.”
Tyler and John Carpenter.
Four years after his 68’s experience, Tyler is honing his craft in the United States Hockey League as he goes through his senior year of high school. He’s committed to a D-I ice hockey program and looking forward to continuing to play at a high level.
2018 attendees reviewing their testing results.
A proud father, John continues to point back to the weekend in 2014 that served as a springboard for his hard-working son’s hockey future.
“We were fortunate and blessed to have our son picked as one of the 68,” Carpenter said. “As a player, Tyler walked away from that weekend with a firm grasp on what he needed to improve. And as a parent, I had a better understanding of how to support him. After that weekend, we had a talk. My wife and I asked him ‘Do you want to do this? We’re all in, but you have to be all in too.’ He wanted to be all in, so we went all in.”
On the right, Tyler Carpenter standing with his STX gear at the 2014 STX 68.
Tyler Carpenter isn’t alone in his success. Just this year, nine alumni from the first 68’s class were drafted into the NHL, including first round picks Oliver Wahlstrom and K'Andre Miller who went to the New York Islanders and New York Rangers respectively. Nearly 100 other camp alums have received D-I scholarships, a testament to the level of talent that comes through the camp each year and to the benefit of that early exposure.
This is still just the beginning for the 68s, which has become a staple of the elite youth hockey calendar. Each year, over 1,000 athletes apply for the spots available and, according to Mann, the potential exists to grow the program. From additional regional events to creating international camps, Mann knows the future is bright, both for the camp and sport.
“We hear it all the time from these parents,” Mann said, “All of them think back to this camp, and they recognize how important it was for their player’s path.”
Looking to learn like a 68? Check out these 7 insider tips from the STX 68 camp to take your game to the next level.
Get an inside look at what it means to be a 68 in the Becoming 68 documentary series.