At a time when many minor hockey rep teams are in the middle of playoffs, Kelowna’s bantam tier 1 hockey team is done for the season, having lost out to Kamloops in the playoffs. But that likely doesn’t matter much to the team, which is just back from a hectic trip to Ufa, Russia where it participated in the International Children’s Games hockey tournament as the only non-European club.
The journey, which included a stop in Frankfurt, Germany and culminated with the team putting up a 5-and-1 record at the games, may have come at the expense of a chance at the provincials. But head coach Tom Watters says it was well worth it.
“I think it was definitely a distraction for us during playoffs,” said Watters this week. “Kamloops beat us in three games and they are now going to provincials. If I had a choice and if you asked the kids I think they would say they would rather go to Russia than to provincials. It was such a good trip for them. They were treated unbelievably well at the games and by the Russian people.”
Kelowna’s top bantam club suffered only one loss in the round robin event as it lost to the host team from Ufa, Russia, a powerhouse club that went undefeated. The Jr. Rockets allowed just two goals in its five other games, earning wins over Switzerland, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia and Austria.
But more than the action on the ice was the experience for the group of 13 and 14-year-old Kelowna Minor Hockey players.
“We went for more than just hockey,” said Watters. “The cultural experience was just huge, The kids saw a whole other way of life. I think they appreciate what they have here even more after they saw the living conditions in Ufa.”
It was the second time Watters had coached a team in the children’s games as his club also played host when Kelowna was the host city of the games in Jan. 2011. He said traveling all the way to Russia made this experience even more exceptional. And he says he would have no qualms about taking his team to a tournament like the Children’s games as opposed to staying home to focus on provincials.
“I would do it again in a heartbeat,” he said. “On an organizational level I think both Kelowna and Ufa did a good job. I just think we were able to experience more of the game’s atmosphere by living in the dormitory, eating the meals with all the other teams and the other sports and being able to let the kids to to other kids from other parts of the world.”
As the lone team from Canada and the only non-European team in the hockey tournament, the Kelowna bantam players were very popular in Ufa, as crowds cheered loudly for them during their games. Everywhere they went they were recognized.
“It was a great trip for these kids,” said Watters. “They were treated like pro players over there. It was unbelievable. We had police escorts for our bus, the kids were swarmed by Russian fans no matter where they went. They were probably the most popular team in the games.”
The Kelowna bantam hockey team made up the biggest portion of the Kelowna contingent but they weren’t the only athletes to participate. Kelowna figure skaters Rosalyn Carr and Julianne Delaurier competed in the figure skating competition.