“Going to college is part of the American Dream. It’s really simple, a big part of American culture is to go to college, do well, and then go from there,” said Hicks. “There is no other country in the world with sports attached to the college experience like in the U.S.
“In Canada, hockey players don’t typically go to college for hockey, they go there for job training. If you go to Europe, there’s no sports teams, no college life, no alma mater [song], none of that,” said Hicks. “The U.S. is really the only country in the world that combines academics and athletics to such a degree.”
The Okanagan European Eagles do, indeed, include all European players skating a season in the United States Premier Hockey League’s Premier Division. The USPHL Premier has established itself as a growing path to college hockey, and these players from anywhere from Sweden to Austria to the Czech Republic know that.
With only a handful of players advancing from European leagues to NCAA hockey, the Eagles uprooted themselves from their home countries to travel to the USA for hockey. During their two ten-week stays in the country, they will be away from family and friends, playing on smaller ice, in hopes of achieving their ultimate goal. In the players’ eyes, the potential reward is worth the risk.
“My goal is to play NCAA Division 1 hockey in the U.S.A., and for me, the best route to get there is the USPHL,” said Austrian forward Sam Antonitsch.
It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
“I want to attend college hockey in New England, so my decision to choose the USPHL was clear,” added forward Cian Derder, of Switzerland.
“I would like to play professionally after college and I think the style of play will help me to be a better player,” said Vadim Malinovsky, a veteran of the Belarus Under-20 National team.
How about you, ’97 Slovakian goalie Fred Foltan?
“I'm starting my junior career, and I think the USPHL gives me a chance to start and develop and hopefully progress on to Tier-2, Tier-1 and the NCAA,” he added.
The Okanagan Hockey Academy, with which the Eagles are affiliated, is a well-known name to colleges in both the men’s and women’s hockey circles. The USPHL’s reputation for development before college and the Okanagan organization’s elite offerings, combined with the swift-skating European style of play all mean that NCAA coaches will do well to take in Eagles games throughout this year.
All of the players speak English, 75 percent are “A” students and also 75 percent speak at least three languages.
“These kids have worldly backgrounds, and they want to do well, academically, socially, and business-wise, like all the other college students in America,” said Hicks.
Playing in the USPHL also gives these players the best chance to get noticed, which they would more than likely not get in their home countries.
“Also, junior hockey exists in Europe, but it doesn’t exist as a pathway to anywhere really. It is nowhere near the level of competition we have in North America. Maybe Sweden or Switzerland have junior leagues that might compare. Most countries’ junior leagues might be developmental up to 14, 15 or 16 years old, but you don’t see a national league like the USPHL at their age,” Hicks added.