Wildcats expand horizons with trip to Europe
Over the summer, a group of Midget and Bantam players from Wildcats Hockey Club had what could be considered the experience of their young lives – and it had nothing to do with raising banners or hoisting tournament trophies.
Twelve California 16U players traveled to Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia under the Wildcats banner as part of the program’s first-ever European trip, which ran from July 24-August 5.
Tomas Kapusta, the Wildcats’ AAA and High Performance director and Bantam- and Midget-aged manager, organized the trip, which also included 13 players’ parents.
The players who participated included Markie Laken, Frankie Sanchez, John Yao, Dylan Hodges, Ryan Perry, Michael Eng, Samuel Kapusta, Wesley Dale, Adrienne Aquilar, Ryan Conover, Connor Kemp and Dash Quartarolo.
“This really was a unique educational and cultural experience for our kids,” said Kapusta, who’s originally from the Czech Republic and played and coached in many countries before settling in California. “Sometimes it’s difficult just to read stories about different cultures or languages; the hands-on experiences are the ones the kids won’t forget.
“I think people who travel are much more tolerant toward other nations since they know how uneasy it can feel to be out of their comfort zone in a place where they don’t speak the language. Moreover, being out of your element provides a great chance to get to know yourself at a level you’ve never experienced before.”
Wildcats president Ben Frank also strongly believes the experience proved valuable for the participating players.
“It was a hockey trip, but also a family, cultural and educational trip,” Frank said. “We don’t travel with the younger groups, but at the Bantam and Midget ages, the kids can really appreciate what they’re experiencing from a cultural aspect.
“From a hockey perspective, it’s a little different style of play in Europe, which was good to expose the kids to. They got a lot of good ice time, and I think it can really motivate them to see high-level hockey in different parts of the world.”
The group played six games during the trip against various teams from all over Europe, and spent the rest of its time exploring the cities of Prague, Zlin, Vienna, Budapest and other sites and attractions.
“It was a great group of players and parents, and they were all very excited and satisfied with the trip,” Kapusta said. “Not only did we get to play six games against other European teams, but parents could relax in the spa city of Luhačovice (in the Czech Republic) and enjoy other attractions.”
Of course, the common bond amongst all those on the trip was hockey, and playing against teams from other countries – with different styles of play and in new environments – was all part of the learning and growing experience as well.
“Getting to know new rinks, different structures and a different cultural hockey dimension while also experiencing new teams and a different way of playing the game added to the cultural enrichment,” Kapusta said.
The Wildcats plan to offer the trip again next summer and hope to do it for years to come. Information on the 2016 trip will be available in the coming months.
“We plan to make it an annual trip,” Frank said. “The feedback was great. A lot of the people who went want to do it again, and we’ve heard from a lot of other people who want to do it in future years.”
– Greg Ball