Fresh off one the Yale men’s hockey team’s most successful seasons ever, five Bulldogs got a taste of what it is like to compete at the highest level during the summer break.

Captain and defensemen Ryan Donald ’10 and forwards Mark Arcobello ’10, Sean Backman ’10, Denny Kearney ’11 and Broc Little ’11 took part in National Hockey League development camps along with other NHL hopefuls in July.

Kearney and Backman worked out with the Washington Capitals, Arcobello and Little trained with the Chicago Blackhawks, and Donald attended the Vancouver Canucks’ camp. Netminder Alec Richards ’09, who signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Blackhawks last spring, also attended the camp in Chicago.

NHL development camps offer draft picks and prospects who have not yet competed professionally the opportunity to impress coaches, as well as learn about what it is like to play in the NHL, both off and on the ice. Players currently on a team’s active roster participate in professional camps. The five Bulldogs attended the camps as free agents upon invitation from the teams.

“The camp was an amazing experience; it was great to be able to see what it takes to get to the next level,” Donald said. “To be able to compare yourself to people who have the same goals as you was a very beneficial experience. I learned a ton about professional hockey, not only from an on-ice perspective, but also what it takes off the ice as well. It shows how much work is necessary before even stepping on the ice.”

“The best part about the camp,” Little added, “was that I was able to learn a lot about how an NHL team operates and how I fit in with some of the best players around, and at the same time show the Blackhawks what type of hockey player I am.”

Training among the three camps included on-ice drills, workouts and scrimmages, as well as off-ice workouts, such as fitness and weight testing. Players also learned about non-hockey topics such as dealing with the media and nutrition.

Arcobello said the camp was not all that different than what he had experienced in his hockey career up until that point. Yale players noted that their experience playing college hockey better prepared them for the rigors of an professional-caliber camp than did the demands of the junior hockey leagues that many of the younger players were more accustomed to.

“It didn’t seem that much more difficult than what I had been doing already,” he said. “It was a lot more professional and the workouts were tough. Other than that, the hockey was good — it was maybe a little faster than what we’ve been playing right now.”

Arcobello added that head coach Keith Allain, a former Yale goaltender who has 12 years of coaching experience in the NHL, did not play a role in getting the NHL teams in contact with Yale players; rather, the Elis were scouted independently. The senior forward did note that his coach could help him talk to professional coaches at the end of his Yale career.

Besides serving as an introduction into the world of professional hockey, the development camps served as a progress report for NHL hopefuls — and a reminder of what could lie ahead.

“I’m always going to have in the back of my mind what it takes to get to the next level,” Arcobello said. “I know that every game, someone is watching you. Every game is important.”