Butler native enjoys taking part in Penguins prospect camp
Jake Hildebrand had wanted to get inside Consol Energy Center for some time.
He just never realized he'd be on the ice during his first visit.
The Butler native took part in the Penguins' prospect development camp from July 15 to 19.
“Being from Pittsburgh and growing up watching the Pens and knowing the kind of first-class organization they have here, it's really special,” he said. “When I got the call to come here, I couldn't say no. I was so excited.”
Hildebrand, who enters his junior year at Michigan State University this fall, was one of four goaltenders to participate in the camp. An unrestricted free agent, he joined fellow UFA Stephen Mastalerz of UMass-Amherst and Penguins draft picks Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray between the pipes.
“I play college hockey right now and my goal is to play pro and hopefully I can make that jump within the next couple years,” Hildebrand said. “A lot of the guys here played pro games and some played show games, so you see how they carry themselves on and off the ice, and you just have to take that back to college and make sure you're doing those things.”
Last summer, Hildebrand accepted an invitation to take part in the New Jersey Devils' prospect development camp.
“This year was a little easier since it was close to home,” he said. “It was a blast. I couldn't have enjoyed myself more. It was a hard week, but to get on the ice my first time in Consol Energy Center was great. I have come down a couple times to watch playoff games outside on the big screen, but I had never been inside. So, to get on the ice was pretty special.”
Hildebrand joined the rest of the Penguins' prospects for on- and off-ice work. He got to absorb lessons from Penguins goaltending coach Mike Bales and Penguins goaltending development coach Mike Buckley.
“Everywhere you go as a goalie, you have a different goalie coach. They all have pretty much the same techniques, but just some different quirks,” Hildebrand said. “It was nice hearing what the goalie coaches here had to say, and it was nice working with them. They are awesome guys and very talented.”
The camp concluded with an intrasquad scrimmage on July 19, which was open to the public and drew around 6,500 fans. Hildebrand started in goal for Team Black and played the first of two 30-minute periods. He left with a 3-2 lead, but Team White rallied for a 6-4 win in the second period.
“As a goaltender, it's hard to enjoy those summer skates when it's 2-on-0 and everyone's throwing it backdoor. When you get to do organized stuff like this at this level and with this competition, it's awesome,” Hildebrand said. “After the season, I usually take a month off and don't skate at all. It's a long season, so I like to take a lot of time off. It was nice to get back on the ice.
“In college, you have such a long offseason, so you miss the competition and games like these where you're competing against guys. When you get to do things like this, you get that feeling back and it's something you crave.”
Hildebrand had his own cheering section for the scrimmage, too, as friends and family brought signs and sat near his goal.
“It was really special. A lot of friends and family have been with me since Day One. For them to get to see all this stuff is great,” he said. “They are always behind me 100 percent supporting me. It's nice for them to get to enjoy this.”
Now, Hildebrand turns his focus to preparing for the college hockey season in the fall. One of the country's top netminders, the Spartans' two-time MVP hopes to help his young team improve on its 11-18-7 record from last year.
“During the summer, it's mostly lifting and working out and working on off-ice things. Now, you start skating more,” he said. “I have been skating two, three or four times a week lately. I'll probably keep doing that until the season starts.
“I am looking forward to it.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.