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The puck starts here

Staff Reports

“So they play hockey in China?”There’s a pause on the other end of the telephone.”Well, yes. They do.”Charlene Zent, hockey mother and chaperone, is patiently describing the details and history of the Vail International Hockey Trip to an otherwise unaware journalist, myself. From what I came to learn, the Vail International Hockey Trip is the opportunity of a lifetime for high school-aged hockey players from the Vail Valley to go abroad and play hockey, get to know people abroad, and experience foreign cultures.Merv Lapin, one of the founders of the Vail Junior Hockey League, has been accompanying Vail’s best and brightest to locations all over Europe and Asia for almost two decades. Every three years, Lapin organizes a two-week wintertime adventure for about 35 to 40 teenagers. In 2000, the group went to China. This year, they head to Russia and parts of Europe.The athletes will compete against four different teams in four different locations around the world, but the event was designed to be just as much of an extra-curricular educational experience. Still, don’t tell the kids that. Zent describes it as, “an educational trip that uses hockey to bridge the culture gap between our players from the United States and the players from other parts of the world.”During their stint abroad, the athletes will spend time with host hockey player families, visit historically and culturally significant monuments and museums, and dine on traditional cuisine. The idea is to immerse the team in the foreign culture, to show them something unique and important, all in the universal spirit and language of sports.Zent firmly believes that what these kids experience during the journey is positive and has the potential to change their lives. “This trip certainly impacts the kids in many, many ways. One of the players went on to study Holocaust history in college because of his experiences playing hockey in Europe.”Zent’s son, Ryan, a high school junior who went with the group to China in 2000 and will also be on this year’s trip, told me what he finds valuable in going abroad.”It’s an awesome experience to travel to a different country and see how other people live. It’s not just about the hockey, it’s about being around a different culture, inside the culture, apart from normal tourist attractions.”The tentative schedule for the 2003 Vail International Hockey Trip will put the team in St. Petersburg, Russia in mid-December, where they will visit landmark fortresses, cathedrals, the Russian Artillery and Zoological museums, as well as a Russian ballet before a scheduled game in Kolpina, Russia. From Russia, the team travels to Prague, Czech Republic, to see things like the Prague Castle Museum, the Opel car factory, and the Bohemia glass factory. After Christmas, the team will drive to Krakow, Poland for a game with a Polish hockey team and a tour of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. The last stop is Litovski Mikulas, Slovakia, for the final game of the trip and a two-night stay at a host hockey family’s home. Returning just after the New Year, the team will have traveled several thousand miles, played hockey in four different countries, and experienced things never experienced before.In order to be able to attend, each hockey player must raise nearly $3,000 to cover travel, lodging, and touring expenses. Zent says residents of Vail Valley have shown overwhelming support for the program and the athletes by contributing to fundraising events.Hire a hockey playerOne unique fundraiser has already begun: the Hire-a-Hockey Player program puts the players hard at work doing any odd jobs. In the past, athletes have helped out with pet care, babysitting, yard work, and home remodeling to name a few.Other fundraising events will include a Skate-a-Thon, where bidders donate a certain amount per laps skated, and a Poinsettia sale near Christmas time. But keep your eyes open – these kids are always looking for different ways to earn the money they need and are counting on you for this once in a lifetime opportunity.For more information about the Vail International Hockey Trip or fundraising, contact Charlene Zent at (970) 926-0076. by Matthew Charles


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