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From Russia, with love

Tom Boyd

The NHL’s Dmitry Yushkevich is talking as if the brand-new, three-inch gash above his left eye isn’t there.&quotYou have to be fair to yourself, you have to eat healthy food, stay away from unhealthy things and be dedicated to the hockey,&quot Yushkevich says in a thick, northern Russia accent. &quotKeep your eyes open, keep your eyes open, and always try to look out and learn.&quotThe advice he gives is for the young group of hockey players that had assembled at Dobson Ice Arena Sept. 26 as part of their new interest in overseas hockey. About 40 youths from Vail, Summit County, Eagle and Steamboat are preparing for a 2003 winter trip to Russia, the Czech Republic and Poland and with the Florida Panthers in town for a four-day training camp, the high-school-aged players were able to talk with and learn from foreign hockey players trying to make it in the National Hockey League.The strange connection between Yuschkevich and Vail is part Florida Panthers and part Merv Lapin. Yushkevich gained his facial damage during the Panthers’ four-day training camp in Vail, but it was Lapin who began a legacy of overseas hockey for local players more than 10 years ago, when he developed a bi-annual international hockey trip.Lapin has continued to organize and sponsor the trip because, he says, he enjoys giving mountain kids the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see unique and far-away places.&quotWhat motivates me is talking to people (who have taken the trip in the past), and they’ve talked to me about what it’s done for them,&quot he says. &quotIt helps them in terms of getting into college, writing essays, and it makes them aware of what they have the potential to do.&quotIn fact, many of the Vail youths who experienced the international hockey trip have gone on to pursue international affairs in one way or another. Todd Hennessey, Nicholas Meyer and John Donovan are among the former players who say the two-and-a-half-week trip has inspired them.&quotThe experience was one of a kind,&quot says Donovan, who teaches at Battle Mountain High School, coached last year’s state runner-up hockey team and plays goaltender for a local men’s team. &quotPlaying that level of hockey was superb it let us know how good we weren’t.&quotThe wake-up calls that come with a few weeks overseas are still in store for Alex Trtanj, Derek Boron and Karl Ecklund, who already lead their teammates in fundraising efforts. The group will hold a skate-a-thon fundraiser Sept. 30 at Dobson, where each lap will earn donations from local patrons and businesses.&quotI’m looking forward to going overseas, playing some hockey, and learning about a different culture,&quot says Trtanj.As part of his exploits, Trtanj and his teammates will visit the former concentration camp of Auschwitz in Poland.&quotI don’t really know what to expect, but we’re visiting Auschwitz and I’ve learned a bit about that already. This is definitely not an average family vacation, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,&quot he says.Despite the heavy nature of portions of the trip, Panther’s head coach Mike Keenan had special advice for young local players.&quotIf you’re a kid, be a kid,&quot he says. &quotEnjoy a great opportunity to live life here in a very unique fashion take advantage of your advantages. Enjoy that culture and enjoy that hockey experience. Kudos to them because that’s an invaluable memory that these children will have for a lifetime.&quotWho: Youth hockey playersWhat: Skate-a-thonWhy: To raise money for a 2003 trip to Russia, the Czech Republic and PolandWhere: Dobson Ice ArenaWhen: Monday, Sept. 30


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