After a few hours of intense workouts, most amateur athletes – or pros, for that matter – are understandably left out-of-breath and wobbly kneed.
After all, the human body is only built to take so much.
So, imagine 11-year-old Matthew Benson’s surprise when, upon arriving at a hockey rink in Edmonton last August, he discovered the first tryout session for the Canadian AAA Explorers Hockey Exchange was five hours long.
The second, a few weeks later, included 11 hours of ice time, albeit with breaks in between.
“It was really tiring, but also exciting – about half and half,” said Matthew, a defenceman for the Semiahmoo Ravens peewee A1 team.
“It was a really long time and I was pretty tired at the end, but I wanted to stay out there so I could show my stuff.”
“It was a full-day marathon, a very busy day,” said Matthew’s father, Dave, adding that for the first tryout, they went right from the airport to the rink, then back to the airport for a flight home that same day.
The hard work paid off, however, after Benson heard – via a letter from the Explorers’ coach and organizer – that he was one of 18 players from Western Canada, out of an original group of 36, to be selected for the Canadian Explorers team, a privately run program led by longtime scout Peter Lumir, that heads to Europe in April as part of a two-week barnstorming tour of Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic.
“I’m really excited to play against some other countries,” said Matthew, a Morgan Creek Elementary Grade 6 student.
Matthew was originally scouted for the travel squad last winter, when he was playing for Semiahmoo’s atom A1 team at a tournament in Abbotsford.
Now that he has made the team – which also features two Abbotsford players, as well as others from B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan – Matthew admits he’s unsure of what to expect, both on the ice and off.
“I’m been to Tampa Bay and Mexico and Hawaii, but never (to Europe) before,” he said. “But my mom says Austria is nice.”
The trip will be a family affair for the Bensons; Matthew will be accompanied by his dad – the team travels by bus once they arrive in Europe – and his mom and sister will fly, meeting them in every city.
Historically, Canadian Explorers’ teams have fared very well at a number of European tournaments, but considering the team has never played together before, Matthew was unsure of how they would do.
Some members of the team will practise for one day in Edmonton before flying overseas, but Matthew will join the team in Germany, where they’ll have two days of practice as a complete squad before playing games.
And though the players who will suit of for the Canadian club are just peewee-aged, they’ll all benefit from added international exposure – something that can’t hurt their hockey resumes a few years from now, if any choose to pursue a junior or college hockey career.
Lumir, a native of the Czech Republic now living in Alberta, has been a longtime scout at a variety of levels; he was the first to scout NHL scoring star Thomas Vanek, an Austrian, and convince him to come to North America, where Vanek played junior hockey and later earned a scholarship to the University of Minnesota before being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres.
“It’s going to be a really good trip for Matt and the other boys,” said Dave.
“Not only will they get to play against European teams, they’ll also get the chance to meet and play with kids from around the rest of his own country.”