Every three (3) years since 1985, Eagle County, Summit County and Pitkin County hockey players and families have traveled the world on a cultural tour that includes USA Hockey sanctioned exhibition games and training sessions. Over the years, 700+ Hockey players and parents have gone on the trips to China and Eastern Europe with the program. Providing a global perspective, creating culturally sensitive Americans and sharing in the love of the sport of hockey is the program’s mission.
FirstBank, Colorado’s largest locally owned bank and home of “banking for good,” has been a longtime sponsor of the program, contributing $5,000 in funding every three years towards the players’ travel costs. This year, the international trip which took place December 18, 2018 – January 3, 2019, included a 16-day adventure to China. The trip was made up of two (2) teams of players 13-17 years old, 15 adult chaperones, a doctor and three (3) coaches.
The 36 person group traveled through six (6) distinct cities focusing on the extensive history of the Chinese and exploring, tasting and learning about their local culture. China has the world’s longest continuous civilization, dating back over 40 centuries.
This trip was a true jet setting adventure. Beyond visits to 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the hockey teams played games in Shanghai, Harbin, Jilin and Beijing, China. Cultural highlights included a visit to the 120th floor of the Shanghai Tower, a night cruise on the Huangpu River to view the impressive lit up skyscrapers in Pudong, an all day river cruise on the Li River, a visit to the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an, a 20 degree below zero visit to the world famous Harbin Ice festival, a hike on the Great Wall of China and tours to Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven and the Forbidden City in Beijing.
“Hockey Diplomacy” The game of Hockey China is growing, in Beijing it is especially impressive. There are currently 30 rinks, where just a few years ago there were only a couple, as well as, there are plans to build an additional 200 rinks in the next 5 years. The Chinese government is putting a great amount of resources into hockey development in anticipation of the 2022 Olympics. One such effort was the hiring of Hockey Legend Wayne Gretzky, as its global ambassador and with the hopes of bringing more NHL games to China. The Chinese are looking to bring a team to Vail and Aspen for Exhibition games in 2019 so the puck of hockey diplomacy is sliding nicely across the ice.
We enjoyed an especially warm reception in Jilin- a industrial city North of North Korea as this is where Merv Lapin, the founder of the VIH programs, coached hockey for 3 years in the 80’s. Lapin also brought the Jilin team to Vail for the International Hockey Tournament in the early 90’s. The players, chaperones and coaches were treated like VIP’s while in Jilin. It was amazing to practice and play in a modern and large NHL style arena that was built within the last two years.
“It was an exhilarating experience to share the love of hockey with a place we are confident will change the sport.” Larry Scanlon- Team Coach.
”It’s been one amazing journey and all should be proud of how these young hockey players have shared the game, shown respect, gratitude and excitement with the Chinese players” Merv Lapin- Program Founder