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"You Could Play Your Whole Life and Never Experience That"

By Mitchell Machtinger, 03/22/18, 1:15PM EDT

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Blades thrilled with 'once in a lifetime' overseas hockey trip


The Blades wearing the jerseys of their billet team and cheering them on.

Coming off the Olympics and the annual World Juniors just a few months earlier, much is made about the progress in the development from countries like Denmark and Switzerland in international tournaments. They are not formerly known as hockey nations but are showing the growing impact of the game across the world.

This was no more evident than in the Lincoln Blades Minor Midget holiday trip to Europe, where the team spent 10 days playing in tournaments and taking in the historic sites across three countries. While making new friends on the ice during the games, the Blades also immersed themselves in local culture.

The Lincoln organization does this trip every two years and it features a mix of minor and major aged Bantam players from the association. It’s been a tradition in the local hockey community for nearly a decade. There were 51 total members who travelled together, a mix of players, parents and staff. The team started planning out the trip in March of last year and fundraised through various tournaments and drives.


A group photo of the Blades and a local team.

Using a tour company to help organize the day to day itineraries and transportation logistics through Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic, the trip wasn’t set up as being hockey-oriented. Instead, the Blades took this once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the historic attractions surrounding them.

There were a lot of tours planned for the times that the group was not playing hockey. The Blades toured through Karlstejn Castle, took a walking tour of Prague and attended a professional hockey game at the O2 Arena. They spent New Years Eve enjoying dinner at a restaurant before heading out to the town square for a fireworks celebration. The rest of the days were filled with a walking tour of Szalberg, a visit to the Dachau concentration camp and a day on the slopes as well.

“I was very amazed by how much interest there was in the history,” said head coach John Nicholls. “When we did these walking tours, a bunch of the kids were right up there listening to what the guided tours were saying about the old buildings and castles.”

Nicholls noticed an increase in the maturity level of the players and was proud of the respect they showed throughout the trip. They learned to appreciate the time spent together on this unique experience.


A poster advertising one of the Blades' games.

“They’re friends for life now, these guys. Any time they see each other, that’s what they’re talking about, is this trip… this is a lifelong experience,” said Nichols. “It’s not just the hockey but the whole, a lot of these boys will never get that chance again, to go over there.”

The trip wasn’t just about a group of Canadians coming to play hockey. For the townspeople of Moravska Trebova in the Czech Republic, this was a chance to turn an exhibition game into a spectacle. There were close to 2,000 fans in the stands watching the contest.

“They brought three or four busloads of people into this game from wherever they were bringing the buses from,” said Nicholls. “For our guys to experience that was once in a lifetime. You could play your whole life in AAA and never experience that.”

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The two clubs participated in a traditional jersey exchange. The host team, who also served as billet families for the Blades, later showed up to the tournament wearing their new Lincoln jerseys to cheer on their new friends. The kids would shout ‘the Canadians are here’ when the bus pulled up and there is now a Blades jersey hanging in the rink.

“I said to (the team), you’re representing Canada and Lincoln. You guys have to be on your best behaviour. And I didn’t have to say a word after. The boys were outstanding.”

Many of the participating teams had never played a Canadian team before. Despite the thousands of kilometres separating the clubs there was not much of a language barrier between all the players. The larger ice surface did not hinder the Blades, who Nicholls says learned to play together as a group more and has seen an improvement in their skill since returning.


The Blades still keep in touch with the friends they made on the trip.

This was the first time in Europe for many of the Blades and it gave them a new perspective according to Nicholls.

“Being from Beamsville, it’s a small farming community, so you go somewhere like that and it just opens your eyes up.”

If the Blades want to return to Moravska Trebova they will be met back with open arms. Nicholls is already working with the team to return in two years and continue the tradition between the towns. The invitation is open in Lincoln as well.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mitchell Machtinger is the Coordinator of Communications at the OMHA. He's worked with various sport organizations and is an avid fan of all sports.

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