Hockey truly is an international game.
Despite the distances and some varying nuances, the game is still played with a goalie on each side and a puck, no matter what sheet of ice you play on.
This past holiday break, the Pickering Panthers Bantam AA team carried on a tradition that has lasted for 25 years in the Pickering Hockey Association. The players packed their bags and crossed the ocean to play a nine game tournament across four countries in Europe over a two week span, combining their love for the sport with the vacation of a lifetime.
The team worked with an agency to establish an itinerary for the trip that included games in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and outdoor and gold-medal games in the Czech Republic.
When the team wasn’t on the ice, they took the time to explore some famous landmarks. In Prague, the Panthers toured the Karlstejn Castle, the Charles Bridge and Wenceslas Square. When in Salzburg, Austria, the team hit the slopes for a day of skiing and snowboarding and also saw the famous Bad Dumberg Salt Mine. Combined with city tours in Zurich and Munich, the Panthers certainly took full advantage of their time in Europe.
Spending 14 days together in an unfamiliar place means that all of the new sights and sounds will become a shared experience. Peter Wieser, an assistant coach with the Panthers, said that the bus trips only brought the team closer.
“Patience, compromise and supporting each other off and on the ice became extremely important to maintain team harmony,” said Wieser.
Team trust has also improved to create a better unit on the ice. Players have made stronger bonds with other members of the team.
Playing hockey in Europe means playing on a bigger ice surface and Wieser noticed some differences in the style of play that his team was facing.
“Teams rarely would give up the puck regardless of the zone, neural or opposition zone. If they didn’t have a play, they would constantly re-group and through motion create opportunity for crisp, high-tempo break out plays as a unit versus individuals that enabled scoring chances.”
That emphasis on puck possession started to be echoed by his own players, who began to manage the puck better by playing a similar style.
“Our forwards were in motion much more frequently, defencemen were carrying the puck more aggressively and forcing the opposing to make decisions that opened up opportunity elsewhere on the ice.”
Yet no matter where the game is played, examples of sportsmanship still stretch across the globe. Teams from other countries began cheering for each other and a group from Slovakia began waving Canadian flags to support the Panthers. Some players would exchange sticks and jerseys, proving that sportsmanship knows no borders.
Fundraising for the trip began two years ago and featured events like golf tournaments, dances and fantasy sports pools.
Wieser recommends using a reputable tour company when planning a trip and to reach out to other teams that have previously done this experience. Create a fundraising committee and have a plan of events. Give yourself plenty of time when organizing all of the details.
“Gain consensus on the core components of the trip and fundraising initiatives, create guiding principles early in the process, publish them and stick to the plan,” said Wieser. “The host teams are extremely excited to play Canadians and want to share in the experience as much as you do, embrace it, consider billeting for one evening for the players to truly experience the culture of the environment in which you are visiting.”
For information regarding team travel overseas or hosting overseas teams please refer to Policy & Procedure 6.0 in the current OMHA Manual of Operations.