For Harjun Dhaliwal, visiting the Czech Republic was the trip of a lifetime.
But throw in a gold medal victory at the Plzen Challenge Cup, an under-15 ball hockey tournament he played in with the West Coast Express, and the experience is one the Centennial secondary student will not soon forget.
“It was really fun,” said the Coquitlam athlete. “It was a really big experience for me. It helped me as a player and it was just a lot of fun.”
Dhaliwal is a member of the Tri-City Minor Ball Hockey Association, where he has made enough of a name for himself to get the attention of Express coach Gary Slavin. When Slavin asked if he was interested in joining the team in international competition, Dhaliwal did not hesitate to accept the invitation.
The Canadian squad, which is made up of players from across the province, made quick work of the competition during round-robin play. They shut out the Czech national team 10-0 before defeating the Slovakian Gajary Flames 4-1 and T.J. Blatna 4-0.
That set the stage for the finals against Plzen, which did not get off to a great start for the West Coast Express.
“They scored first,” said Dhaliwal. “We were all kind of put down.”
Undeterred, the Canadian squad was able to tie up the game and in the second half they found the go-ahead goal. But things stayed tight until the final buzzer sounded, with Plzen pulling their goalie and hemming in the Express in their own end.
It took an empty-net goal from West Coast’s Kaiden Johnson of Burnaby to give the visitors all the insurance they needed to win the gold.
“It was quite competitive,” said Dhaliwal. “They take ball hockey very seriously over there.”
For many of the players, the trip to the Czech Republic was their first time competing overseas, according to coach Slavin.
One of the big differences they faced, he noted, is the fact that in Europe ball hockey is played on a plastic tile floor, a big adjustment for Canadians accustomed to playing on concrete.
“All of them are used to playing on arena concrete floors,” he said. “That ball moves faster on the tile, as well the shots come off the floor different.”
But thanks to strong scouting, he said he had a feeling his team would have success in Europe.
“I knew going in to this tourney we had a strong team on the floor and off the floor,” said Slavin, who has made 10 trips to the Czech Republic for ball hockey tournaments. “Respect, dignity and focus was seen with every player. As many of my groups overseas have been from U16 right up to master men’s, this was the first U15 team taken over and I was very happy with the entire trip from both players and parents.”
Slavin said the under-15 trip went so well plans are already being made for a repeat trip. Coaches, players and parents interested in learning more about it can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-with files from Dan Olson