Bell Capital Cup brings Ottawa, South Korea hockey players together

This year's Bell Capital Cup has set the stage for an international ice breaker and an epic sleepover for a pair of teams — one from Ottawa, another from South Korea.

Players with lone South Korean team are billeting with the Leitrim Hawks

Justin Lee, left, and Ethan Chiarello, right, are becoming quick friends at this year's Bell Capital Cup. Lee is playing on the tournament's lone South Korean team and is billeting with Chiarello's family. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

This year's Bell Capital Cup has set the stage for an international ice breaker and an epic sleepover for a pair of teams — one from Ottawa, another from South Korea.

The tournament is one of the largest in North America, and this year, it's attracted more than 200 atom and peewee teams from across Europe, Asia, the United States and Canada. More than 3,500 kids between the ages nine and 12 are taking to the ice.

This year, South Korea GIHA — one of the tournament's three Asian teams, and the only one from the Korean peninsula — requested a "home stay" experience in Canada. So organizers reached out to the Leitrim Hawks Major Pee Wee A team to help billet 20 Korean players.

Leitrim head coach Benoit Cassan says the Hawks were more than willing to welcome the Koreans into their hockey family.

"The players are enjoying it. The parents are enjoying it. It's quite an experience because it's so different," said Cassan. 

Benoit Cassan is the coach of the Leitrim Hawks Major Pee Wee A team. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

Joined at the hip

Ten Hawks families agreed to take in two Korean players each for the duration of the tournament.  Although the Hawks and GIHA are in the same division, they're in separate pools, which has allowed them to cheer for each other.

But it's the off-ice experiences that are being ingrained in their memories.

The two teams will spend nearly a week together joined at the hip, with group dinners and excursions to events like the Christmas light show at Wesley Clover Park. They'll also be watching the world junior hockey championships together on television.

'Its been very fun': Bell Capital Cup creates international friendships

3 years ago
Duration 1:32
The 21st edition of the Bell Capital Cup has sparked unexpected bonds between hockey players from Ottawa and South Korea.

Justin Lee, one of the South Korean players, says he's loving the experience because he has "freedom without his parents" and no homework.

The 12-year old is staying with Ethan Chiarello and his family. The two boys have bonded over ping pong and — after playing a friendly hockey game before the tournament — have developed a respect for each other on the ice.

"Justin is pretty fast. He's got a good shot and good puck control," concedes Chiarello, also 12. He's also learned how pronounce Lee's Korean name and how to say "hello" in Korean — as well as the occasional swear word, something that sends both boys into fits of laughter.

South Korean players are congratulated by the Leitrim Hawks following their first win at the Bell Capital Cup. The Koreans are being billeted by the Hawks during the 2019 tournament. (Christine Newman)

Expanding horizons

The parents have also noticed amusing cultural differences during these home stays. 

Hockey mom Christine Newman has three sons, but she still jumped at the chance to host two Korean players at her home.

Newman said she wanted to open the eyes of her "sheltered suburban kids" and expand their horizons. She said the Korean boys have always been quick to say "thank you" and help clean up, while also marvelling at the spaciousness of a Canadian suburban home.

She said they've been open to trying new things, but have also clung to their comfort food.

The South Korea GIHA team is the lone club from the country that's participating in the 21st edition of the Bell Capital Cup. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

"I took them to Tim Hortons, and they loved the breakfast sandwiches, but the doughnuts were way too sweet for them. They also brought their own ramen noodles and chopsticks because they like eating [noodles] before bed," Newman said.

The boys also asked if she knew how to make Korean barbecue chicken. She didn't, but offered to take them to Kentucky Fried Chicken on another night. 

In a twist of hockey fate, the Leitrim Hawks will meet South Korean GIHA in the Bell Capital Cup quarterfinals. Only one team will advance, but the players will skate away as friends.