A group of young hockey players from a small community in northern Alberta will be boarding a flight to Poland Sunday to compete in an international hockey tournament.
The U-12 team, which is largely made up of aboriginal players, will be the only North American team to compete in the Kosyl Cup, which will also include teams from Russia, Belarus, Slovakia, Poland and Ukraine.
The team’s participation is the result of a year’s work by team manager Derek Kubicki, who managed to garner an invitation to the international competition using some of his old hockey contacts in Poland.
Kubicki said the community of about 4,500 people has seen its share of hardships and negative publicity over the past few years.
“As a resident of Wasbasca and a business-person over there and having kids this age, I always wanted to do something that would be a life-changing experience for the youth of our town.”
Kubicki and the players’ parents have been fundraising for months to raise the necessary cash to cover the cost of the trip – $64,000.
“With a trip like this, financials … are a big undertaking,” he said, adding it would have been impossible to reach without the strong support of the local government and business community.
However, Kubicki said the trouble was more than worth it as the trip will offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the players.
“For this group of kids, of course this trip is mainly about hockey because that’s how they see things and that’s what's important to them – but to me, as the organizer, there’s a lot more to it,”said Kubicki.
"The education and cultural value of this trip is going to be phenomenal. It’s an immeasurable educational tool that these kids will experience by being there.”
While in Poland, the team will tour historic and cultural sites in Warsaw, Krakow and Lodz. They will also be visiting Auschwitz and Wieliczka.
“We are sending a message that no matter where you are , in small communities in northern Alberta – aboriginal or not … [you] can break out of it and go on and achieve new things,” he said. “Through education and travel – this is the best way to do it”
With only one more night before they take off, the Wabasca players were all smiles talking about the trip.
“It was exciting when my dad first told me. I didn’t know what to say after that,” said 10-year-old Kowen Dullion, who said he only found out last month that he was about to visit Europe for the first time.
“It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be a time me and my dad are going to remember.”
Tracey Houle, whose son Brenan Rosychuk is also on the team, said the tournament is all her son has been able to talk about in the past few weeks.
“This is awesome for him... he gets to go somewhere different and see different people – it’s a whole new exciting thing for him. He couldn’t sleep last night.”
Like Kubicki, Houle thanked the town for its support of the project.
“It’s a native community, right, so anything for the kids to see something like that – he wouldn’t have been able to see if it wasn’t for Wabasca taking them… it’s an amazing opportunity for them.”
Wabasca is about 330 kilometres north of Edmonton.