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Polar Bears Ringette Tour 2003

1,2,3,4.....37,38...Good to Go!!

Such was the cadence called out several times by our group over the two weeks during our tour throughout Europe. We were a group of 14 athletes, 23 additional family members and the best tour guide in the world, Radek Dan for a grand total of 38 travelers. We found out on our tour's first day, courtesy of one of our player's mothers, Val Dolan, that assigning a number to each of us to be called out in sequence once we were all on our bus would easily and quickly ensure that no one would be mistakenly left behind. Aside from its obvious practicality, we all had a lot of fun with the process during our time together.

Our Team Canada Polar Bears Ringette team 2003 followed the footsteps of the inaugural ringette tour to the Czech Challenge Cup held in Prague in 2002, led by Gord McSween of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta. As was the case for Gord and his team last year, one of our group's prime motivators this year was to further expose and introduce our sport of ringette to other countries in the world that are potential adopters of the game. My conclusion is that the sport was once again viewed by local officials and onlookers with eager interest. Most everyone who offered comments to us were very impressed with the speed and high quality of play that they witnessed.

Our team was comprised of athletes ranging in age from 15 to 20 years; one player resides in Tisdale, Saskatchewan, two from Lethbridge, one from Strathmore and one from Rockyford with the balance coming from the Calgary area. We were exposed on-ice to several interesting venues, including a practice in Fussen, Germany as well as two exhibition games and six round robin games versus three Finnish teams in Prague. One of the three Finnish teams is a contender with the Finnish Tier 1 League, with the other two clubs being top contenders within their Country's Tier 2 League. Our girls wore the Canadian Red , White and Black Polar Bears' colors with all of the same pride that any other Canadian athlete competing for their Country has shown us in the past. Up against some very stiff competition and with their collective hearts on their sleeves, our girls captured the Bronze medal, being one goal away from earning Silver. My full compliments as coach goes out to each and every player for playing at a level which does our Country and the sport of Ringette proud. Excellent job, well done ladies!

Our tour this year commenced with our arrival in Amsterdam where we first met up with Radek and once on board our bus, we were off to Koln, Germany for our first night. From there, we toured to the medieval town of Rothenburg and attended a local festival in Bad Mergentheim. The next day, we moved on to Oberamergau in the German Alps and visited the infamous Neuschwanstein Castle, which was quite an exciting spectacle that we all enjoyed. The next leg of the tour took us to the Salt Mine and Celtic village near to Salzburg, Austria and the better part of a full day in the downtown area of Salzburg, a beautiful city well known for its backdrop for "The Sound of Music". Our hotel was perched on top of a small mountain just outside of Salzburg and I still think I overheard an echo of Julie Andrew's "The Hills are Alive" song early the next morning...although I couldn't find anyone else agreeing with me (must be my sensitive ears, I guess).

From there, we moved into Prague for 5 days of competition, sightseeing and shopping (maybe the occasional disco with the girls). Prague is a very beautiful city overflowing with culture, full of exciting things to do. We toured a crystal factory, the local Staroprammen brewery, the Asian market for shopping during our visit and thoroughly enjoyed strolling and sightseeing throughout the city center. Near to Prague, we attended the Terezin Concentration Camp, which was sobering reminder of past wartime tragedies as well as an opportunity to reflect on how fortunate our families are today by comparison.

After our competition in Prague, we flew by charter back to Amsterdam and stayed for three days in a small town west of Amsterdam, near to the North Sea, called Noordwijkerhout and toured in and around Amsterdam for a few days. We had a great time strolling around in the city center and also participated in a canal tour within the city's core. We toured an authentic cultural village called Zaanse Schans and a few of us even braved the "Goliath" roller coaster at the Six Flags Amusement Park, northeast of Amsterdam. As I compose this article back at my home in Calgary in September, I'm even still processing all of the exciting things that we saw and places that we went to during our trip.

I hope that I speak for all of our tour's participants when I say that it will leave a very pleasant and positive impression on us forever.

Many grateful thank yous go out to, once again, our guide, Radek, as well as Paul Almeida of Azorcan Global Tours Ltd., our team's manager, Darlene Kuhn (with a very honorable mention to Val and "Father" Phil Dolan) and my co-coaching staff, Joan and Bruce Hammond. Collectively, you have made the entire experience possible and we all on the tour appreciate your joint and untiring efforts. What an awesome experience!


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