NHL players would wither under a schedule that involved nearly 20 games in 12 days – but 12-year-old Brandon Pennell survived his whirlwind hockey trip to Europe, playing with the Western Canadian AAA Explorers’ peewee hockey team.
Brandon and his mom, Terri, got back to Hope on April 2.
“My mom doesn’t want to ever see another bus or airplane again!” said Brandon on Monday, sporting his trademark grin.
Brandon was chosen last fall for the all-star born-in-2001 squad but a last-minute change got him and five others elevated to the one year older team.
This put the team a bit behind, as they had only practiced once together before heading to Frankfurt, Germany — and they played an exhibition game the day they landed, losing 5-4.
The Explorers were booked into three tournaments and they seemed to get better as a team as their trip unfolded.
They played in the Carlsbad Spring Cup at Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, where they came fourth out of six teams, including one from Hungary.
Their next tournament was supposed to be in northern Italy but there was a glitch that tour organizer Peter Lumir had to iron out.
“Our tournament in Italy got cancelled,” said Terri. “We were booked into a hotel that was right across the street from the arena — but Peter got us switched to a tournament in Füssen, Germany.” That entailed a two and a half-hour bus ride each way for three or four days, driving through Austria to get to the Bavarian city.
“We were up at 5:30 in the morning for those days,” said Terri, whose friend Lynn Ortis of Hope came along for her first-ever trip to Europe.
There were two other Canadian teams at the Füssen tournament, along with one from Slovenia. The rest of the 12 teams were from Germany. Brandon’s squad finished in fifth place.
“All of the rinks had Olympic-sized ice,” added Terri. “They were huge! And most of the arenas had lots of seating.”
Some of the players were huge, too… even bigger than the biggest players on the Canadian team, said Terri.
“I hip-checked a really big guy and got a tripping penalty,” recalled Brandon. “I guess I got too low on him — but I’m a small guy.”
Brandon usually plays defence on his Chilliwack A-1 rep team but he was used up-front for some of the games, to balance out the lines.
“The coaches liked that he was able to play both positions,” said Terri. “Many players can’t.”
One of Brandon’s off-ice attributes is his ability to make new friends and he tried to mix with players from the European teams when he got a chance.
“I played street-hockey with some of them in the hallway of the arena,” he said. “Some of the players spoke English, but you had to act a lot with the other ones. It was like playing charades!”
The last tournament of the tour was in Burgdorf, Switzerland, against eight Swiss and one German team.
The Explorers made it into the final, where they were buoyed by the support of their new-found friends.
“On the last day of the tournament, all the other teams were supporting Canada, waving flags and yelling ‘Can-a-da, Can-a-da,” said Terri. “The other team was getting annoyed.”
The extra cheering may have helped, as Brandon’s team won the final and each player got a trophy to bring home.
Still not hockeyed-out yet, the boys played three exhibition games on their final day in Germany, winning all three at the Icehouse in Eppelheim.
Brandon usually plays spring-league hockey, but Terri said, “That was spring hockey right there, in two weeks. He will be practicing once a week with his friend Dawson Pelletier’s team in Chilliwack, though.
“Brandon and I would really like to thank all of our friends for the support they gave us for this trip,” added Terri.