Playing on the world stage can be nerve-racking for even the most seasoned of hockey players. But for 16-year-olds Steven Hodges and Landon Peel, it’s something they’re getting used to.
Selected to play in the 2011 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge – Hodges for Pacific, Peel for West – the two certainly aren’t strangers to high-level hockey of an international flavor
In July 2009, both took part in the IIHF Development Camp, a seven-day camp in Vierumäki, Finland, that featured more than 400 players from 56 countries, including non-traditional hockey nations like Romania, Mexico, Estonia, Spain, India and New Zealand. The camp focused on skill development, encouragement of fair and honest play, and the promotion of international friendships and relations.
“The experience of going to Finland really helped me as a person, and as a player,” said Peel, who mans the blue line for the MJHL’s Swan Valley Stampeders. “I got a lot of different views on my game and the things I do well, and the things I need to work on. I met a lot of different people and hockey players, and know how hockey is played in all those different countries.”
On a team that included players from 17 different countries – Serbia, Slovenia and Luxembourg among them – Peel learned a few new languages and, despite the language barrier, interacted well with his camp mates, including Erlend Lesund, his Norwegian roommate.
“Just being in the same room with him was a great experience,” Peel said of sharing a living space with the Scandinavian. “It’s one thing that I will never forget.”
Hodges, a rookie forward for the WHL’s Chilliwack Bruins, is equally fond of his time in Finland.
“It was amazing to meet so many people, it was the experience of a lifetime,” said Hodges. “My biggest take away was just how cool all the other players were.”
He said that between drills, practices and games, the players would hang out, share stories, and get to know each other.
“It was such an honor to represent Canada at the camp,” the Chilliwack, B.C., product said. “There’s a lot of great talent, but in most other countries outside North America, hockey isn’t a priority like it is here, so the players don’t develop as quickly. I feel very lucky.”
Hodges also happens to speaks French, which made it easy for him to make new friends at the camp.
“For some reason, a lot of the guys there spoke French as well – even a guy from Bulgaria – so that made it easy to get to know the guys,” he said.
Two of the three Canadians at camp – Alberta goaltender Troy Tremblay was the other – Hodges and Peel have maintained a friendship, even with close to 2,000 kilometers separating them.
“Steven was great to go and travel there with,” Peel said. “He is only not a great guy, he is a great hockey player as well,” said Peel.
“Landon is just a great person,” Hodges said. “He’s super fun to hang out with, and he knows how to have a good time.”