Champions League Connects Youth Hockey Players From Around The World
There’s thousands of youth hockey tournaments year-round. Small, mom-and-pop events with 16-20 teams. Corporate behemoths with more than 300 teams. Some new, some old. Some come, some go. How many can say they truly make an impact on the participants and their families, and the global landscape of youth hockey?
The 2022 Champions League hockey tournament set out to do just that, by organizing the first ever world championship. Designed to put the best 2008-born players in the world on the ice together at one time, the inaugural event drew teams from five different countries including the United States, Sweden, Finland, Slovakia and Kazakhstan. With so many different nationalities from various backgrounds, what happened when this group of 13-year-olds collided on the ice in Coral Spring, Florida, was awe inspiring.
Extremely unique playing styles clashed on the ice, while cultural diversities meshed off of it. A bond — shared through the game of hockey — was formed instantly between American and Finn, Swede and Slovak. Language barriers couldn’t stop the friendships that were formed over the course of six days at the ice rink.
Finland-based Kiekko Espoo defeated Yale Jr. Bulldogs 3-2 in their opening game of the tournament. Less than 24 hours later, the Bulldogs stood along the glass and cheered their Finnish counterparts to victory, as Kiekko won in a shootout over Seacoast Performance Academy. Going from fiercely competitive to wildly supportive in a matter of moments.
“I was trying to do Google Translate on ‘em but they’re like ‘we can speak English,’” said Yale forward Aidan Gray. “So we traded Snapchats, Instagram, we’re pretty good friends now.”
Younger generations catch a bad wrap when it comes to socializing and their dependency on devices and technology. Yet it’s social media that will keep two teens from polar opposite ends of the world connected for years to come.
The tournament featured some of the best players in the 2008-birth year. Odds are likely this won’t be the last time participants from this tournament collide. Under-17 Five Nations Cup? USHL or CHL junior hockey? Under-20 IIHF World Juniors? the NHL even. It may seem wildly improbable on the surface, but it would hardly be a first for World Hockey Events. The tournament company — who recently announced a merger between Total Package Hockey (TPH) and World Hockey Group (WHG) — is the same team behind the World Selects Invitational series. The WSI has seen the likes of more than 350 NHL Draft picks and 1,000 NCAA players over the past 13 years; it’s likely that the Champions League will follow a similar trajectory.
New England-based Seacoast was at the heart of a lot of these international connections.
A unique moment was captured between them and HK Dukla Trencin when all participating teams had the opportunity to attend an NHL game between the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. On the concourse, Spartan players came across an unusual scene, as the Slovakian players and coaches gathered.
“When we went up the stairs, the Slovakian team was chanting a song and we just joined them and it was a blast,” said Levi Kossatz.
“I couldn’t understand [what they were saying],” said Seacoast defenseman Cameron Clark. “It was wicked fun though. I mean they started going and we just jumped in, and it was a blast.”
Competing against players from completely different walks of life is a memorable moment in its own right. Befriending those same opponents and forming connections beyond the rink turns ‘just another hockey trip’ into an unforgettable, life-changing experience. Championships, overall records, individual statistics all seemed to take a back seat as every participant was able to leave with an invaluable memory that’ll last forever.
Another shining example was later on in the week, as anxious Americans watched Finland’s Jone Mölsä score a nail-biting goal in the final seconds of regulation to tie the game and force overtime. One can be heard saying, ‘I’m nervous watching this,’ while others shriek with excitement, ‘Yes!’ and ‘Oh! It didn’t get out!’
Over time, memories of a championship or game result or dazzling play will fade. The day-to-day moments in youth hockey will fall by the wayside, whether they go on to become NHL superstars or accountants and engineers. Life experiences like Champions League, though, can certainly serve as memories that will last a lifetime. The game of hockey teaches athletes lessons like discipline, commitment and being a part of a team. Similarly, life experiences like Champions League can provide once-in-a-lifetime memories that will resonate for years to come.
If you want to take part in this life-changing tournament experience, submit the application below, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube for announcements regarding upcoming Champions League events.
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