Last year, Center Ice told you about the Friendship Cup, which was a hockey tournament that took place April 8-10 in Duluth, Ga. that featured teams from Penza, Russia, Hawkesbury, Ontario, Canada, Florida, and Atlanta.
Certainly, what most of those involved will remember was the cultural exchange that took place with the Russian kids getting a chance to see and play in the United States, and Atlanta Thrashers head coach Bob Hartley serving as a personal tour guide for the team from his hometown.
This year, the city of Penza returned the favor, hosting the 20 Duluth Jr. Thrashers
Bantam A players and their families April 6-15 as part of a celebration of international youth hockey.
After the tiring 11-hour plane flight, Jr. Thrashers coach Yan Kaminsky shepherded his team around historic sites in Moscow, including the Red Square, Lenin’s Tomb, and the Kremlin before the 15-hour train ride to Penza.
The city really rolled out the red carpet for the Jr. Thrashers, greeting them with television news crews and official hosts as well as providing an interpreter, ground transportation, lodging at an Olympic training facility and meals for the duration of their stay.
The team also got a chance to tour historic areas of Penza, including buildings that dated back to the city’s founding in 1663.
Of course, the team did find time to play a little hockey, too, competing in five games in the course of seven days.
The team got a chance to match up against several Russian youth teams, including the host Dizelist 1992 team.
The Jr. Thrashers’ first game against the Dizelist 92’s April 8 featured welcoming remarks from the deputy governor and minister of sport of Penza. The Jr. Thrashers fought hard, but lost the game on a goal with just 16 seconds to play.
The team also played games against a squad from neighboring Samara as well as the 1990 and 1991 Dizelist teams.
In the end, however, as with the Friendship Cup, it was more about learning other cultures and making new friends than winning and losing.
Following the final game, the Jr. Thrashers traded jerseys with the Penza players, a fitting example of the cultural exchange taking place.
The trip also gave Kaminsky, the hockey director of the IceForum in Duluth and the man initially behind the idea for the Friendship Cup, a chance to visit his hometown again and to see Sergei Lopushansky, a former teammate, again. Lopushansky was the coach of the team from Penza that came all the way to Georgia for the Friendship Cup.
Perhaps the highlight of the trip for the team was attending a playoff game between the Dizelist professional team and a Siberian pro team as guests of honor, while Kaminsky’s number was retired before the game. Kaminsky began his professional career playing for Dizelist when he was 15 years old.
Of course, the trip wasn’t free. By a long shot. Each family had to pay upwards of $5,000 for the trip.
Still, it seemed a small price to pay for the experience of a lifetime, which, incredibly, was the second year in a row that Kaminsky was able to put it together.