A trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania proved extremely successful for the Junior Generals Alberta hockey team, which comprises players from all over Central Alberta.
The team brought back a silver medal from the OneHockey Pennsylvania Summer Challenge in Philadelphia, July 5 to 8, with players from Sylvan Lake, Red Deer, Eckville, Rocky Mountain House, Lacombe and Delburne.
“It was a fantastic experience,” said head coach Al Letendre. “Even though we came second, it was extremely successful. It was a win-win on all accounts.”
Sylvan Lake’s Tanner Smith was one of the 16 players born in 2000 who made the trip, and enjoyed facing tough opposition.
“The best part was how intense the games were,” he said. He added that he was extremely grateful to his coach, his parents and sponsors who made the trip possible.
“It was just a lot of fun being with all my teammates and all my friends. It will be in the back of my head for my whole life.”
Of the seven games they played during the tournament, the Generals won four. They faced teams from all over the United States, and narrowly lost in the final 3-2 to a team from Dallas, Texas.
Off the ice, players, coaches and parents enjoyed sightseeing and exploring Philadelphia. Attending a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game was just one of the trip’s highlights.
Khale Skinner of Sylvan Lake was interested to find how hockey is viewed differently between the United States and Canada.
“They just have a whole different perception,” he said, adding that the experience of playing in the tournament has made him a better hockey player.
“It was just a really good experience.”
Having no knowledge of the opposition his team would face, Sylvan Lake’s Kale Seelen admitted he didn’t know what to expect at the tournament.
“We just didn’t know what they were like,” he said.
“We’ve never met them, we’ve never seen them play, we’ve never heard of them; they were completely different.”
Not knowing what he and his teammates were up against, he said, just enhanced the tournament experience.
“We were just kind of going with what we got. I was proud of the players that I played with.”
For Letendre, the tournament was not a first. He’s attended and coached at OneHockey tournaments all around North America, and knew that with so many talented players in the area, he would be able to assemble a team capable of competing.
Yet, winning was not the priority he set for his team. Instead, he wanted to ensure his players were given a once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable hockey experience.
“When we decided that we were going to go for it, I made it very clear that it was the experience of playing in a different country, in a different environment and against different players, was what it was about,” he said.
Feedback from his players, at the end of the trip, he described as “unbelievable”.
“It was an experience that they will cherish for a really long time, and that’s really what it was about.”