The Russia Chronicles, Day 16
September 1, 2019
North American Hockey League Director of Communications, Marketing, and Sales, Alex Kyrias, will be chronicling every day of Team NAHL’s trip to Russia, including stops in Moscow and Sochi for the 2019 Sirius Junior Club World Cup.
The Russia Chronicles, Day 16: Dasvidaniya Russia… and Thank You
Well, this is it… my last post. Team NAHL is on the long journey back home and our trip to Russia has come to an end. The 2019-20 NAHL season begins in just 12 days (seriously?!) and all 23 players and six staff members will land in Chicago on Monday night and go their separate ways.
Words or the 16-day collection of stories posted on nahl.com cannot accurately describe the journey that has just taken place. We have been to places and seen things that we may never see again in our lifetimes. It has been memorable, inspiring, humbling, educational, emotional, and incredible.
I can’t start my list of thoughts and thank you’s without first mentioning the players. They were true ambassadors of the North American Hockey League, their teams, USA Hockey and their country. It was a true melting pot of every one of our NAHL teams, so everyone had a stake in this. When they sat down in Chicago and met each other for the first time, they knew the journey the next 16 days was going to be hard. But, as a movie line once put it…“It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great.”
And great it was! Without any type of training camp and coming fresh off summer break, this team managed to win three of their five games played in Russia and come within a goal of the Semi-Finals and medal at the World Cup. More than that, I think they impressed everyone here. The guys gave it all they had, they bonded, they worked their tails off, the battled through sleep deprivation and cultural change, but for two weeks they became brothers. It was none more apparent after our last loss against Trinec on Wednesday and after our last win over MoDo on Thursday. After the loss, the lockerroom was silent. Guys sat in their uniforms for a while knowing they had just missed out on a medal. You could see and feel the heartbreak. After the win, the same thing, but pure exaltation. They knew that they had beaten a really good team and won their last game ever together as a team.
It will be cool to see all of them again down the road and hopefully at the Showcase. I know I will be following all of their careers closely as they continue to develop as hockey players and men.
Next, I have to mention our staff. Our General Manager Tony Zasowski was incredibly organized throughout this entire process. While trying to juggle all his other duties with the league, which includes being the Director of the NAPHL in addition to handling all of the NAHL’s Player Personnel and Central Scouting initiatives, Tony managed to make this trip as seamless as possible. During the games, he was scouting, taking notes, relaying that information to the coaches, and oh yeah… he made for one great and insightful color commentator during our broadcasts.
Our coaches were both outstanding and given their personal situations, I think the job both did was remarkable. If you want to know what kind of person Scott Langer is and his dedication to the league, just look at what has happened to him the last three months. On May 14th, he guided the Aberdeen Wings to a Robertson Cup National Championship, which was his first title in 22 years of coaching in the league. Six weeks later, that jubilation became instant heartbreak as on July 4th he and his wife Tiffany, lost their first child and son Kellan Albert Langer on the same day he was born after almost 9 months of pregnancy. One cannot begin to fathom losing a child in this fashion, let alone your first child. It would have been perfectly acceptable and understandable for Scott to have told us that he was not going to coach. Not only did Scott remain committed to coach Team NAHL, but his wife bought a ticket and traveled to Sochi to support us during the tournament. I can only hope that this trip was therapeutic for both of them and a small step in the healing process with the loss of their son.
On the other side of the coin was Rocky Russo. Rocky is a fiery Italian, who is as animated and passionate as they come. Rocky had his wife had their first child, a daughter, right before the Robertson Cup, so leaving a three-month old for 17 days had to be difficult. But like Scott, Rocky put all that aside and did a hell of a job coaching this team. Dating back to the early years of the Amarillo Bulls back in 2010, 2011, 2012, Rocky was the then Assistant Coach for the Bulls and they had a real big rivalry going on with the then Topeka RoadRunners, coached by Langer. It was no secret, Scott and Rocky were not friends. In fact, you could have easily called them enemies. However, seeing them work together on this trip makes you believe that we have two of the best in the business in Scott and Rocky coaching in the NAHL, and they really complimented one another on the bench, in practice, and when we all hung out together. They were definitely the Ying and the Yang of Team NAHL.
Our support staff of equipment manager Dave Dunkleberger and trainer Devin Spears are as good as it gets in junior hockey. Both do things behind the scenes that nobody witnesses. Whether it is Dave staying all day and night at the arena to get laundry done or equipment dried, or Devin working on player’s injuries or running a stretch or a warm-up, both did an incredible job for us.
The support staff also extends to those who didn’t make the trip in the NAHL offices. There was an incredible amount of logistics then went into this trip, way too much to name or quantify. However, every step we took, be it from getting our passports and visas, to conference calls with the players and parents before the trip, to our flights and hotels, to our meeting in Chicago, to our trip to Russia and back, was all because of the fact that we have the best and most organized staff in the business. What makes it more incredible is the fact that every day business for the NAHL with planning for the start of the season in three different leagues continued to march forward without missing a beat. In just over two weeks, we will be hosting our biggest and best event, the NAHL Showcase. The amount of work and planning our staff has done for that event in addition to making sure we had everything we need, lends my thanks and appreciation.
I want to thank NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld and our NAHL Board of Governors for allowing this trip to happen and allowing me to be a part of it. I wish all of them could have made the trip and witnessed what we did. Your decision to send a team to the World Cup and represent the North American Hockey League on the international stage has taken the league into an entirely new stratosphere (if that is possible). I know every one of you is passionate about our game, your team, and our league. Just know it was one of the greatest things I have been apart of in my 38 years of hockey, let alone 9+ years in working for the NAHL.
Lastly, I want to thank the fans, friends, and families of the players during this trip. The response to all of our posts on social media was incredible and your support kept us going through thick and thin. It was a pleasure to document this experience and bring it to you back at home because I know you missed your sons, teammates and friends, and want the best for them. They had a lot of fun, as did I, and will remember this experience forever.
Finally, a thank you to my family. My job entails a lot of travel, but nothing like a 17-day roadie to Russia. Thank you to my wife Dory, my two daughters Dorothy and Eloise, and our great support staff of family at home for allowing me the freedom to do this and continue to follow my two great passions in life: Family and Hockey. I will be home soon and can’t wait to share my experience with you.
Well, that was a fun ride and I hope you enjoyed it! What was the most memorable part for me? Through all the incredible excursions, sights, sounds and experiences, the best part for me was standing to hear our National Anthem played after our first win of the Tournament. That will stick with me for the rest of my life. Be proud of this team, I know I am.