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Aspen Junior Hockey kids experience hockey overseas during winter break

Colorado International Hockey vs Huddinge Hockey Club in South Stockholm.
Courtesy of Kris Kaplinski

Aspen Junior Hockey players got a taste of hockey abroad through a trip with Vail International Hockey to Europe over winter break.

The student-athletes traveled for 19 days and visited eight cities in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and Scandinavia. While hockey may have been what motivated the student-athletes to travel, they ended up finding great value in all of the historic sites they visited along the way.

Nine student-athletes participated in the trip. Aspen middle-schoolers Benji Taylor, Charlie Kaplinski, Wyatt Shepard, Will Pfautz, Colton Jones, Gavin Vold, Henry Mellenthin, and Aaron Levey were joined by Glenwood Springs middle-schooler Jack Clifford, and all played on the 14U team. An 18U team made up of players from Vail, Steamboat Springs, and Summit participated in the trip, as well.



“The one place that stood out to me was the Czech Republic because of the old town and the museums, like the Museum of Communism,” said Mellenthin. “In the Museum of Communism, it showed what it was like to live and be a part of the Soviet Union.”

The historic sandstone buildings of Prague also stood out for him.




Students visited the Christmas Market in Old Town Square in Prague.
Courtesy of Kris Kaplinski

The student-athletes played hockey games in the countries they visited and met players from each of the countries.

“One thing I noticed is that they are just like us. They are all trying to get better and love the same game as us,” said Taylor, adding that he learned how to say “thank you” and “please” in other languages by talking with the other hockey players.

“I learned from the other players that they want to go play in the United States, and that showed me how lucky we are to be able to play in a free country. The trip showed me that they are just like us,” he said.

The hockey players noticed differences between the way they play hockey and how it is played in other countries. Most notable was the difference in the speed of the game, said Pfautz.

“They play a similar game, but they play it faster and pick their head up and make quick passes that can turn into goals,” he said.

He saw the speedier game as a learning opportunity and will take away what plays they do so he can try them.

“They are kids just like us. They want to play hockey like us,” he added.

Aspen Junior Hockey kids at Mariefred, Sweden, outside of Stockholm.
Courtesy of Kris Kaplinski

The student-athletes went for hockey but came away with much more. The kids from Colorado and the international kids all shared in their love of hockey, but, in a lot of other aspects, the kids couldn’t be more different.

“One takeaway from this trip is that others’ lifestyles are not like mine, and I need to understand that it’s like that in the states, as well,” said Clifford. “There are a lot of interesting people all over the world, and I think that we don’t consider that enough.”

From the perspective of a chaperone, Kris Kaplinski said the bonding among the group members, adults, and kids was amazing, especially when factoring in an intense travel schedule with unexpected delays and cancellations.

“We did our best to represent Colorado ski towns, and I think the exchange of ideas, gifts, customs, sports and conversation lent to gaining many new friendships among the group and internationally,” he said.

The kids were pushed far out of their comfort zones, he added, but were exposed to so much art, history, architecture, and culture. They had the opportunity to try different foods, such as goulash and pickled herring, and to speak with peers from the Latvian, Swedish, Finnish, and Czech hockey teams.

“In speaking with the team, I suspect that most kids now recognize that different is not better or worse; it’s just different,” Kaplinski said. “My hope is that this theme carries with the kids, and that they continue to explore, adventure, and learn about the big, wonderful, and diverse world they live in.”