The Szeklerland Ice Hockey Academy has had some extremely important guests in the past few days. In addition to the European University Hockey League (EUHL), we were also visited by the leaders of an American university championship. The main topic of discussion was the upcoming cooperation, as we are expected to be the hosts of the World Cup of Collegiate Hockey in April 2023.
We have developed a wonderful work relationship with the European University Hockey League since Sapientia U23 has joined. We have already had two opportunities to organize small tournaments under the auspices of the organization, which have been very successful. Therefore it was not much of a surprise when the EUHA representatives asked us to host the World Cup of University Hockey “WCoUH”.
The request was followed by a series of specific steps and planning. The President of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), Paul Hebert, and its Executive Director, Craig Barnett, visited Szeklerland. They were accompanied by the president of the European University Hockey Association, Jaroslav Straka, the association that organizes the EUHL, and his vice-president, former NHL star Lubomir Sekeras.
During their tour, they visited the region’s ice rinks and inspected the infrastructure of the Szekler Ice Hockey Academy. They were pleased with what they saw and concluded that Szeklerland could be a worthy host for the prestigious international championship, to be held in 2023, under the name of World Cup of University Hockey. The United States of America, Canada, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Austria and Hungary and Romania are expected to take part in the prestigious championship.
After a visit to the Szeklerland Ice Hockey Academy’s base, we discussed with the guests about their organization, their visit to Szeklerland, and the aspects of the cooperation.
The head of the European University Ice Hockey League, Jaroslav Straka, has been working with Sapientia U23 and the Szeklerland Ice Hockey Academy for several years now, so he was not unfamiliar with Szeklerland, and still, he was amazed by the current situation of the SZJA.
‘We were quite impressed by what we had seen here. It is amazing that such a modern academy with a dormitory and a medical center has been built in such a small village in a beautiful natural setting. It deserves nothing but respect. We have discussed among ourselves about the development we witnessed, even in comparison with other countries, and I think that things are heading in a very good direction, and soon Szeklerland will be able to catch up with the hockey nations that are ahead of us. I’m sure that in 5 years we will be competing at a similar level,’ said the Slovakian leader.
Regarding the World Cup, he said that the infrastructure conditions are excellent, the place is beautiful, and a lot of work has already been done. The buildings needed are located in a small area, close to each other, which makes it ideal for a major sporting event.
The EUHL President continues.
‘When Tamás Horvát and Attila Nagy first approached us, we didn’t know much about the hockey-life in Szeklerland. After a few matches, we saw that we are dealing with true professionals. Skilled players arrive to the EUHL who are on the same level as the other participating teams,’ said Jaroslav Straka.
Vice President Lubomir Sekeras was also present. The former Slovakian national player exceeded in both his native country and the Czech Republic, but the peak of his career was the three-year-long period in the NHL, where he played 213 games in total.
The former star player, similar to his colleague, was rather pleased with what he had seen, and emphasized that it is possible to have a career as brilliant as his own from an Eastern European region, such as Szeklerland.
‘I think it involves one’s heart and soul, because it takes a lot of sacrifice, you have to get up early, you have to work a lot, but if you love what you are doing, you just have to persevere and you can achieve great success. It doesn’t matter where you come from, you can make it from the smallest village, you can reach the highest level. If the work that has been started here continues, if the players make the necessary sacrifices, the results will come,’ said Lubomir Sekeras encouragingly.
The American Collegiate Hockey Association has nearly 500 teams, three men’s and two women’s divisions, 13,000 players representing 48 different US states and two Canadian provinces. Paul Hebert, the President of the organization, gave a behind-the-scenes look at the World Cup of Collegiate Hockey, which is being held in Szeklerland.
‘We have a great relationship, we have been cooperating with the European University Ice Hockey League, of which Sapientia U23 is a member as well. Our aim is to constantly initiate new projects around the world. We want to take university sportsmen to new places where they can experience something new. Therefore, it’s much more than just hockey. The goal is also to give the players a taste of the local cuisine, to learn about the culture, and return home with new experiences they can share with others,’ said the ACHA President, explaining the background of the upcoming event.
‘I think it’s a very good environment, a very good place to organize the World Cup. And I hope there will be enthusiastic supporters too. Of course, we are experiencing in quite a chaotic period, we would have loved to come earlier, but because of the coronavirus pandemic this was impossible. But we really hope that the planned tournament will take place here, as the infrastructure and the environment is great for such an event. We like what we see, we know we can trust the people here,’ said Paul Hebert.
Craig Barnett, Executive Director of ACHA, praised the SZJA as follows: he said the impact and importance of such an institution goes far beyond sports, as it has a huge impact on the life of the community.
‘It’s my first time visiting, and I find the place beautiful, the people welcoming and the hockey infrastructure exceptional, so I think that when university hockey players come here, they will have a great experience,’ the Canadian-born professional stated.
‘Academies have become very popular in the United States as well. I am convinced that the opportunities to develop children from the earliest age will make a difference. There will also be a huge improvement in their academic achievements and personalities. So all my respect to those who make an effort to make it possible for parents and children to have such fantastic opportunities,’ – shared Craig Barnett.