Hope hockey player named to exchange program

Canadian AAA Explorers travel to Europe next spring for 16 days

Brandon Pennell has been chosen for an elite traveling team that will be visiting several European countries next spring. The 11-year-old defenceman is playing on the Chilliwack A-1 squad this season.

They looked long and hard to find 38 of the best peewee hockey players in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories — then they pared the 38 down to just 18.

When it was all done, 11-year-old Brandon Pennell made the cut and will be traveling to Europe next spring with the Canadian AAA Explorers hockey exchange team.

Pennell was part of last year’s Hope Wildcat atom rep team and was scouted at a tournament in Abbotsford during the Christmas break. The scout invited the young defenceman to a pre-tryout camp in March in Bashaw, Alberta (northeast of Red Deer).

Pennell went to that camp, then was invited back for the August camp, where players were divided onto two teams for scrimmages, while evaluators watched.

Then the long wait began.

Finally, the call came on the Thanksgiving weekend and the good news started spreading.

“Happy Thanksgiving!” said the email from Pennell’s mom, Terri-Lynne. “I just wanted to let you know that Brandon made the team to go to Europe!  We are still in shock, LOL.”

“My dad [Larry] got the phone call,” said Pennell on Monday. “I was pretty happy and excited.”

The Grade 6 C.E. Barry student has had other good news this year, like when he was selected to Chilliwack’s A-1 rep team — despite being an out-of-town first-year peewee.

Evaluators must have seen something that others didn’t have… as did the coaches for the traveling team.

“My number one concern is the attitude of the boy,” said Peter Lumir, executive director of the International Hockey Exchange, based in Bashaw.

“Then comes speed, passing and team work. If the players have a good attitude, then we can have fun, which makes it easier to win.”

Lumir was born in the Czech Republic and emigrated to Quebec as a youth and now speaks Czech, French, German and English, which he says makes it much easier to deal with overseas parties.

Lumir has organized hockey schools in the Czech Republic and in Canada, started the Bow Valley Eagles junior hockey team and has run the international exchanges for 20 years.

“But please don’t talk about me,” said Lumir.

“It is Brandon who was selected for this team. He is the star.

“There were four boys chosen from B.C. and he is one of only five 11 year olds on the team.”

Even in his game at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack on Monday, Pennell was one of the smallest on the ice — though he held his own against a talented Abbotsford squad. Body checking has been taken out of house-league hockey in B.C. this year but it’s still in full force in the rep divisions.

“There will be body contact in Europe, too,” said Pennell. “If I can handle A-1 here, I can handle it over there.”

He will be leaving for Munich on March 24, accompanied by his mom and family friend Lynn Ortis.

There will be plenty of hockey during the 16-day trip — including a tournament in Munich that starts on the same day that they land — though sightseeing and shopping are also scheduled into the trip.

“From Munich, we go to Innsbruck, Austria and then to Italy for a tournament,” said Lumir.

“Then we will be visiting the UNESCO-protected ancient village of Barborka in Bohemia.

“Next day, we are going to visit an ancient castle, then to Prague for a single game and on to the northern Czech Republic for our third and fourth tournaments. We will also visit a Second World War concentration camp at Terezin.

“On the way back to Frankfurt, we will visit the spa town of Karlovy Vary, where we play a game and on April 8, we will be leaving from Frankfurt for home.”