There’s a lot that goes into hosting the World Junior A Challenge.
From accommodations to transportation to meals and ice time. But for the international players, a huge part of feeling comfortable in a new country and culture is to hear a familiar voice.
And breaking the communication barrier becomes as important as keeping skates sharp and sticks taped.
With teams coming from Russia, Belarus and Germany, there was a need for local people to come forward and help bridge the communication gap between the visitors and their hosts.
For the Russian and Belarusian teams, there was quite a large pool of candidates thanks to the Russian heritage throughout the West Kootenay.
For the Germans, the committee didn’t have to look any further than their local leader, City of Trail mayor Dieter Bogs, who filled the role of interpreter just two weeks ago with a visiting delegation from Germany.
"I enjoy doing different things," said Bogs who came to Canada from Germany in 1952.
And helping out with the tournament was right up his alley.
"I’m a hockey and a Smokie fan to start with," he said. "I go over to Germany every few years and my brothers come over here and visit me. I’ve had a good opportunity to keep my German at a pretty good level."
Bogs and ‘61 Smokie Hal Jones were enlisted as interpreters for the Germans. Bogs explained that he and Jones have a unique situation with the players. Jones is respected for his hockey legacy and Bogs for his role as Trail’s mayor.
"They know about the Smokies," said Bogs. "And a mayor in Germany is a much important person than here in Canada. So that makes it special for both of us."
When it came to the Russian and Belarusian players, organizer Rosemary Whitlock called on long time friend Sam Konkin to help out.
"Any time Russian teams come to Trail I’m always involved," said Konkin. He brought on Natasha Bilenki of Trail and Castlegar’s Peter Voykin to help with the Russian team and Bill Gorkoff and Peter Zaytsoff from Castlegar to help with the Belarusians.
Gorkoff, a retired teacher who also taught Russian to children, was apprehensive when he volunteered to translate for the Belarus team.
"I had heard they spoke a different dialect when I volunteered for this. So that was a bit of a concern at first.
"I have a knowledge of Russian, not a huge knowledge," added Gorkoff.
"There is a difference between Belarusian and Russian. It’s sort of like Russian and Ukrainian. You can pick up the key words.
"The coaches say the older people use it. But I noticed when the players are communicating, among themselves, they all speak Russian."
He said the Belarussians have enjoyed their visit and were very interested in the huge Russian heritage in the Castlegar region.
"I wasn’t sure of the relationship between the Russian team and the Belarus team," said Gorkoff. "It’s a friendly rivalry. They cheered for Russians last Friday."
Bilenki was a casual hockey fan growing up in Russia and the only knowledge she had of Canadian hockey was Phil Esposito’s exploits during the Summit Series in 1972.
However, when she moved to Canada she learned her husband, Dick, had played junior hockey against Esposito in Ontario.
"I’m delighted to help," said Bilenki. "I still talk to my friends in Russian."
Vincent Bernard-Crespin doesn’t have to translate for the players, he’s lending his help to keep the World Junior A Challenge a bilingual event.
Kevin Webster of Hockey Canada said it’s standard for each game announcement to be made in English and French.
Longtime Smoke Eater announcer Tiger Milburn fills the English role to a tee and Bernard-Crespin was recruited for the French announcements.
"I was the only French guy in the office," said the Kootenay Savings employee. "I wanted to help. This is such a nice community."
Bernard-Crespin grew up in France and lived in Quebec for a couple of years before moving to the region two years ago.
He admitted to having some difficulty translating the penalties into French and added he’s gradually becoming a hockey fan.
"I’ll have to if I want to become a Canadian one day."
Trail fans are wondering if he can properly translate Tiger’s trademark "Yoo, hoo" call following Smoke Eater goals.
He said it’s possible but Hockey Canada prohibits announcers from showingany favoritism during international tournaments.