Five years ago when Peabody High hockey coach Mark Leonard took Team Mass. to Minnesota for a tournament he was impressed with a couple of places there for off ice-training, designed to improve shooting and stick handling skills.

The idea of opening a similar facility around here has been in the back of his mind for quite a while, and now his dream has become a reality with the opening of the Northshore Hockey Factory at Danvers Indoor Sports which is located at 150R Andover St. (Route 114).

He has 800 square feet of dry land flooring tiles, four hockey nets, and all the latest stick handling, passing, and shooting devices.

“I’m really excited,” said Leonard, who was an outstanding player for the Tanners and went on to have a fine career at UConn. He has been the head coach at Peabody High for 19 years and picked up his 200th win this past season. “We’ll have various size weighted pucks as well as a white puck that is difficult to see; it’s all about playing without looking at the puck. I want this to be a fun place for kids of all ages to go to work on their hands and get a feel for the puck when it’s on their blade.

“We have a special floor made of dry land hockey tiles which creates a smooth area so the puck will slide easily. We also have all the latest equipment for drills.”

Pass Master, Fast Hands Trainer, Attack Triangle, Sweet Hands Dangler, and Quick Stickz Training System are all tools Leonard will use. Fast Hands uses obstacles to stick handle the puck or ball through or shoot over, Quick Stickz is a computer program, while Sweet Hands is another tool to improve stick control. At the clinics toe drags and backhand skills will also be taught.

Leonard will have an open house on Saturday and Sunday April 5 and 6 so people can check out what the Northshore Hockey Factory has to offer. Clinics begin on April 7th and run for six weeks. Youngsters will be able to pick two sessions a week to attend. Leonard intends to hold a five week session before the summer camp program begins. Groups are split by age with the youngest 6-10. There is also an 11-13 year old group, and one for 14 and older.

“We’ll run camps and clinics,” said Leonard. “There’s nothing like it around here. So many kids go to skating camps and play games, but they neglect to work on their hands.”

“We’ll have something almost like the batting cages where kids can come in for a half hour to just shoot a bucket of pucks. They don’t play street hockey like I used to now that video games are so popular. We want to give them a place to practice their shooting and stick handling to raise the level of their game. We’re also going to be doing a lot of work with girls because there’s nothing for them right now, and I know a lot of girls from the Peabody hockey team are interested.”

Every hockey fan knows the importance of getting off a quick shot and having good hands. Bruins television play by play announcer Jack Edwards is fond of saying David Krejci could operate in the phone booth because he has such good control of the puck. Some of the all time greats like Wayne Gretzky were renowned for their “soft hands”.

Leonard will work with youngsters to develop hand speed, muscle memory, and the confidence to feel more comfortable passing and receiving along with shooting. The most important thing is being able to handle the puck under pressure. He hopes in time to have programs for adults.

One unique feature offered is a boot camp for the mothers, available two nights a week. It will be run by Pete Reppas at Repertoire Fitness. While their children are working on their game the mothers don’t have to wait around but can get fit for $10 a session on a pay as you go basis. The sessions that begin on April 7 will offer one night of shooting drills and another session strictly devoted to stick handling.

“When I was at Cushing (Academy) for a PG year Pete was a couple of years behind me and I got to know him,” said Leonard. “He has a great facility, and I was talking to him one day when my daughter was playing soccer at Danvers Indoor Sports. We decided to add the Boot Camp, and during the summer our hockey camps will combine conditioning with hockey skill work.

“I believe we are offering sometime completely different, and I can’t wait to get going. I wasn’t the biggest guy around at 5-foot-8, but my hands were what allowed me to go as far as I did in hockey.

It’s an important part of the game, and with our equipment and drills we can help kids develop skills that will elevate their game.”

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