Around the same time his 1980 Olympic squad shocked the world and captured the hearts of Americans, Herb Brooks and his good friend Chuck Grillo had an idea to start a hockey camp in central Minnesota.
With the ‘Miracle on Ice’ fresh in their minds, players jumped at the chance to learn and train at a place started by a storied coach.
“It gave the camp a tremendous jumpstart, because the Olympics just got over,”
Chuck Grillo said. “They were the talk of the century, so we couldn’t go wrong in that category.”
Little did Brooks and Grillo know at the time — Minnesota Hockey Camps would go on to produce more than 50 Olympians. From Mike Dunham to T.J. Oshie, the camp is a familiar place for many to become bigger, quicker, stronger and faster.
Now, 37 years later, the camp is as strong as ever and still welcomes back many of those Olympians, and even their children, each summer.
Passing on the tradition
A current men’s ice hockey Olympic coach himself, Tony Granato used to spend much of his time during the summer at Minnesota Hockey Camps.
“Tony was probably one of the original guys that helped build the dorms where the kids still stay,” said Dean Grillo, Chuck Grillo’s son, who now owns the camp with his wife, Carrie. “His family, all the way to gold-medalist Cammi Granato, they all spent time here, either as campers or workers. They all are a huge part of our family.”
That family has only gotten bigger over the years. As former campers send their own children to gain that experience, they can’t help but feel a sense of familiarity.
“The one thing they do know remains the same is the training and hard work — they all seem to want their kids to experience that,” Dean Grillo said. “A lot of the time it’s about hockey, but it’s not always about hockey. They pull in here and they say the place has changed, but yet it hasn’t really changed at all.”
Ryan Malone knows the feeling all too well. Less than a week before he prepared to send his two young boys off to Minnesota Hockey Camps last summer, he decided he would pack his own gear and join them.
Malone went all in — having fun while jumpstarting his body and going through the camp just like a regular kid. He participated in dryland training with the Mites and the Squirts.
Now a contender for a spot on the 2018 men’s ice hockey Olympic roster, Malone is seeing that hard work pay off.
“At one point last year, we had eight alumni in camp with their kids,” Chuck Grillo said. “That says a lot about the camp itself — that the players that came to camp actually believe that’s where their child should be. It says more than the person coming initially.”
‘We could line walls’
It’s not uncommon for alumni of Minnesota Hockey Camps go on to the NHL, the Olympics or into the coaching world.
Oshie still visits Minnesota Hockey Camps, and its owners can’t help but remember back to when he was a young kid just getting started.
“He’s as good a person there is,” Chuck Grillo said. “All of them are … It’s more about the person than it is the player”
For many former campers, there are other paths to follow. For Bobby Gassoff Jr., Minnesota Hockey Camps was a stepping stone to his future as a Navy SEAL. For others, it’s helped them become doctors or lawyers. Herb Brooks’ children and grandchildren have even been to the camp.
“No matter how far a player makes it in hockey, you always hear in some way, shape or form that their time spent at Minnesota Hockey camps prepared them for whatever it was in life they went on to do,” Dean Grillo said.
For Chuck Grillo, it’s all about those photographs he sees hanging on the walls.
“The things that stick out the most are the success stories that come out of the place,” Chuck Grillo said. “It’s done so much good for society. Some are in the Hall of Fame, and others have gone on to be successful people. The memories really are the 8-by-10 pictures we can put on the wall of productive citizens — that adds to our net worth in life. We could line walls. That’s how many there have been.”