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“It was definitely fun to see how different they play the game than us. They were very accurate with their passes and I’d like to think I matched-up well with them, but they were quick for sure.”
— Ethan O’Mailia, a Moffat County High School senior, about getting the opportunity to play hockey in Switzerland last week.
Jarret Walt sat in a Switzerland hostel last week with his hockey teammates, flipping through mostly German-speaking TV stations.
After finding a sports channel and muting the voices, Walt said he saw something that inspired him.
“Hockey players in Europe take their celebrations after goals a lot more seriously than we do in America,” Walt said. “My teammates and I picked up a bunch of new celebrations and decided to try one. After a sweet play and my teammates goal, we slide to our knees and high-fived each other.”
New celebrations was one of the many things Walt, a Moffat County High School junior, and senior Ethan O’Mailia got to experience last week as part of the Colorado Ski Country Selects youth hockey team.
The team was made up of youth hockey players from Colorado, Idaho and Wyoming who played five games against local Switzerland hockey clubs.
The Selects left March 24 for Switzerland and returned Sunday.
“The trip was amazing and the overall experience was absolutely amazing,” O’Mailia said. “I’m so thankful for (coach) Brian Smith and the people who give us hockey players the chance to play in something like this.”
The 17 players practiced for the first time together as a team the first night and again before the first game on March 27.
O’Mailia said having little time to practice with a bunch of new players took some adapting, but there was a lot of skill from almost everyone involved.
With most the players coming from small towns like Craig, Walt said it made making a connection with each other easier.
“I felt the team had good chemistry because we were all from small towns, so everyone got along good and became friends,” he said. “We didn’t have much time to practice together, but we all started playing well together especially by the fifth game.”
When the games finally started, Walt, who played forward, said the way the Switzerland teams played hockey was like he expected, including stick finesse and lack of hitting.
“The players there were stronger on their sticks and were fast, but they couldn’t hit,” he said. “They were hard to keep up with and poke check, so we had to be physical to keep up. The refs definitely called a lot more penalties because they weren’t use to the hits we laid out, so for every five penalties we had our opponent had one.”
O’Mailia, who played defense most of the time, said the Switzerland players’ stick handling was amazing to see.
And while the Selects went 0-5 on the week, the trip was more about experience than winning games, he said.
“It was definitely fun to see how different they play the game than us,” O’Mailia said. “They were very accurate with their passes and I’d like to think I matched-up well with them, but they were quick for sure.
“We knew from the get-go that the games were about learning and having fun, so that took some stress off and we got to really enjoy the games.”
O’Mailia and Walt said when not playing, they were able to check out some of the local culture.
From green lakes to Jungfraujoch, a mountain pass in the Bernese Alps, both athletes said seeing a different culture was a great experience.
“It was absolutely incredible and things were so different there, even the mountains,” O’Mailia said.
“It was a good time checking out the different aspects of the small villages and the food was very different,” Walt said. “I didn’t always know what I was eating, but it was always good.”
Both players said the experience of playing hockey in Europe was something they would love to do again and appreciate being able to have the opportunity.
Walt, who received help from the Craig community, said he wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support.
“If I had the opportunity, I would do it again,” he said. “There were only benefits from this experience, no downside. The help with my fundraising was great, so I thank everyone who gave me this opportunity.”
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