'Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' for Winnipeg teen to play hockey for Turkey in international tournament
Grade 11 student to fly to Erzurum, Turkey on Saturday for European Youth Olympic Festival
A Winnipeg teen is on his way to Turkey this weekend to play for the country's national youth hockey team in an upcoming international tournament.
Nick Cicek, 16, plays defence for the Winnipeg Wild, the city's triple-A midget hockey team, and was drafted by the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League.
But later this month, he'll put on a different jersey and play for Turkey in the European Youth Olympic Festival. The festival includes 48 sports and teams from several European countries.
On Saturday, the Grade 11 Grant Park High School student is set to depart for Erzurum, after Turkey's hockey federation reached out to his dad last fall. Organizers were scouting Turkish players from countries known for hockey and guessed Cicek might qualify based on his last name.
"At the beginning, I sorta laughed, not gonna lie. It was sort of a weird thing, you don't hear this at all from any other kids," said Cicek, who has Turkish roots. His dad was born there and has dual citizenship in Turkey and Canada, meaning Cicek is eligible to compete.
"Maybe some of my friends [go] to youth teams for Canada but never for European teams," he said. "I was a little surprised at the beginning, but then it sort of sunk in and I was like 'Wow, this is a cool experience.'"
Cicek said he's looking forward to visiting his extended family who live in Turkey — who have never seen him play hockey — and playing on the international stage.
But some countries have expressed concerns about security in light of recent terrorist activity in Turkey and political tension and armed conflict in nearby Syria and Iraq.
More than a dozen European teams have already announced their full or partial withdrawal, including Switzerland, Austria and Ireland.
Dad Nazim Cicek said he understands some parents may have concerns, but he goes to Turkey often and isn't too worried.
"I go often, my family's still there, so we look at it a little different than, maybe, outsiders would," he said.
"It's not the easiest geopolitical area, obviously. You know, it's a tough neighbourhood. But I don't think we're taking any significant risks."
The tournament is set to begin on Feb. 11 and continue until Feb. 18, but Cicek is leaving early to practice with the team.
"It's a cool experience, because I'm representing the country as a whole, which is sort of, like, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said.
"To be honest, when I heard, 'Oh, this'll be hosted in Turkey, and we'll be playing [for] Turkey, it's going to be — I'm pretty nervous right now. But I feel like once I get there and we just start playing the game it'll be a lot of fun and a good experience."
With files from Karen Pauls