Submitted by Nikolas Sombrowski
I recently returned from playing hockey overseas in Slaney, Czech Republic for the AAA Western Selects Grizzlies and I noticed that there were major changes in the style of play. The biggest noticeable difference between our game play and the European style was the amount of body checking used during the U14 AAA Czech Spring Hockey Cup.
Our Western Selects team came out with a few big hits every game, which shut the other teams down right away, as they were not used to this style of play. We shocked and scared the opponent during each game. We had the advantage right off the hop, so this technique was very useful to our team. However, we met our match when playing the larger and stronger Czech Republic. Their style was very similar to ours, giving us the best competition in the tournament.
The lack of hitting was made up by the European team’s skills and passing. The players would receive the puck, and before you could say “NHL”, the puck was gone to the next player. This was very difficult to play against because we had to keep our feet moving and really anticipate the play. Many of the kids I played against had incredible deking skills, in fact one deke in particular made our defenceman fall right onto his rear, which then led to a goal against us.
The refereeing is also very different than what we have at home. Slashing and crosschecking penalties that were called in Europe would have been a slight nudge or love tap in Canada. If a hard hit was made, even a clean one, the player would be called for something, generally a 10 minute penalty. This would be an outrageous call in Canada. Our team received the most penalty minutes, which included players ranked one, two, and three with the most minutes. My coach even said, under his breath, that the referees were “soft”.
I had a wonderful experience playing in Europe with not just a physical but extremely talented group of boys from Winnipeg and westward. It turns out that our style, stronger brute strength came out on top. In our final game against the Czech Republic I managed to get two shorthanded goals, one of which being in the last 40 seconds, winning the game. Each of these scoring chances was created by a teammate firstly sacrificing his body then making a big hit so we could gain possession
A successful team doesn’t only need skill, but they need to bond, follow the game plan, which in our case was using the body, and take advantage of scoring opportunities when they were given. In the end we need our skills, strength, and team play to bring home the gold.