While many students reconnected with friends over the holiday season with hot chocolate and turkey, Western’s men’s hockey team opted to bond with schnitzels and steins of fine lager.
Between Dec. 27 and Jan. 7, the team traveled to Europe to take on five teams from the Netherlands and Germany (four of which were professional squads) and do a little sightseeing around both countries.
The 12-day trip has been over a year in the making, according to Western forward Sal Peralta.
“Last year [head coach Clarke Singer] was interested [in going] and we basically put some fundraising stuff together,” he said.
“We got interest from the team and it was a good opportunity for the young guys to see what kind of hockey is out there for later on and for the older guys who are looking to play pro and play there the following year. It was a good eye-opener for opportunities outside of where we are now.”
Overall, the team finished with four wins and one loss during the trip and had a chance to see the nuances of the European game.
“The funny thing is they don’t hit a lot over there ... we were way more physical than them,” Peralta said.
“The refs and the coaches on the other team told us to stop hitting or they were going to call penalties. I guess it was a little rough for them. It is a big ice surface and we have a lot of quick guys on the team so you can really do well.”
Singer agreed the European game is much less physical and the competition was not quite up to par with what they were hoping.
“The Canadian style is very physical ... [and] there is little to no contact in the European game,” he said. “I wish the competition had been a bit better for us.”
The atmosphere of the games was also something unique for many of Western’s players, Peralta said.
“It was nice to see some of the rinks. Some were half indoor half outdoor, which was really good. The fans over there are pretty into it, too. They got right into it with some celebrations with our team. It was a good experience altogether.”
Besides becoming acquainted with the European brand of hockey, the players also showed their talents to local scouts.
“There were a few sports agents there who came and talked to the guys and said there are opportunities for guys to come over there in the future,” Western goalie Brad Topping said. “Most of the guys should be able to go to Germany and play in division three.”
Three former Western stalwarts, Mike Rice, Steve Benedetti, and Jamie Chamberlain, currently play for various pro teams in Europe and met up with the team during its trip.
“They love playing there ... anytime you get to play hockey and get paid for it — it is a bonus.”
Beyond the differences in playing style, the team had a chance to take part in some unique experiences.
“There was one game we were playing where after the game the whole team gets up and does a cheer together with the fans and they included us in there too,” Peralta said. “Our team all got together and did a cheer with the fans and it was pretty cool.”
Being from Canada, the team also drew some extra attention from spectators.
“You had people coming up asking for autographs and wanting a hat or something. It makes you appreciate where you’re at. Some of us might be done soon ... and you wonder when the last time is going to be that you get to sign an autograph. So it was nice to see the attention you were getting,” Peralta said.
Although the training was a little slack in comparison to their regular routine, the players had the opportunity to bond with each other and experiment with the usual lines.
“The time we spent together got us a lot closer,” Peralta said. “It gave us a better idea of who we are around.
“Some guys played with different people, which gives the coaches a different look on what is going on, too.”
For the team, this extended road trip was not just about playing hockey but about the experience together.
“When you head to a place like that ... it was all new for them,” Singer said. “It was as much about experiencing European culture as it was about hockey.”