For the NWT midget hockey team – including three players from Hay River – last month’s tour of Europe was all about the experience.
And hockey was just part of that experience.
“I had a lot of fun,” said Hay River’s Lochlan Munro, 16. “It was a good experience. I made a lot of memories. Yeah, it was a good trip.”
Tyrell Wilgosh, a 15-year-old teammate from Hay River, agreed.
“I thought it was a good experience,” he said. “It was fun playing something different.”
The team played and lost six games, all in the Czech Republic.
Sixteen-year-old Dawson McMeekin feels there were a few games the NWT should have won against some of the Czech teams but not the others.
“A couple of games they were good teams, and there was no beating them,” he said. “We played the best team in the league which was undefeated.”
Munro also said some games were blowouts against the Czech teams, including the top team in the league.
“Their record was like 76 and 0,” he said.
However, Munro said most of the games were competitive.
“The teams we played there were all in the same hockey league,” he said. “They all play each other.”
The three Hay River players found the Czechs play a fast-paced game, and overall the calibre of hockey there is very high.
“They were tough teams,” said McMeekin. “They were really good.”
Wilgosh also found the Czechs to be really tough teams.
“They were really good at passing,” he said.
The NWT players found the experience to be helpful for their own hockey skills.
“I think our team game improved over the course of the trip,” said Wilgosh.
None of the three Hay River players seemed particularly surprised by the results of the games.
“It was kind of tough to just throw a team together for a weekend, and take off and play games,” said McMeekin.
Munro said the NWT team had four practices and one game before leaving for Europe.
On the other hand, the Czech teams have been playing together all season.
Munro said the NWT players also definitely got the feeling the Czechs were looking forward to playing Canadians.
“Just that Canada has always been the best at hockey,” added McMeekin. “So to have a chance to play Canadians, I think it was pretty special for them, and they can say they beat us.”
The NWT team spent nights in four different cities. They flew into Frankfurt, Germany, and then travelled by bus to the Czech Republic.
The tour was organized because midget hockey was not included in last month’s Arctic Winter Games due to a lack of facilities in Nuuk, Greenland.
In all, 18 players, two coaches and a manager made the European trip, which started in Yellowknife on March 14 and ended March 24.
The trip was supported with $64,000 from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, and the team had to raise $1,500 per player.
Along with Hay River, the players came from Yellowknife, Inuvik, Fort Smith, Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk.
As important as the hockey was the cultural experience of visiting Europe, a first for all three of the players from Hay River.
“They had pretty good food,” said Munro. “We ate well there. I enjoyed it. It was different there. People dress a bit different. They have some weird haircuts there.”
McMeekin also enjoyed the off-ice experiences of touring cities, and visiting castles and old churches.
“It was great,” he said. “It was fun.”
Wilgosh also enjoyed seeing the cities and castles, and learning about the architecture.
The three players unanimously agreed their favourite city was Prague, where they spent three nights.
“It’s just so much there and everything is so close together,” said Munro. “And there are some cool people there.”
Overall, the three agree the trip was a great experience.
“It was good team bonding,” said Munro. “We got to know some new people, and make new friends.”