BARRE — Just when a visiting group of girls from Kazakhstan was beginning to get the hang of playing hockey without their legs on a Friday morning scrimmage with the Vermont Ice Vets was called because of darkness.
Due to a storm-related power outage that left most of Barre and a good bit of Vermont without electricity on Friday, the lights went out at the BOR arena even as 15-year-old Yulia Tolokolnivka was commenting on her first foray into sled hockey.
Tolokolnivka briefly sounded oh-so-American for a young woman who has never traveled abroad, much less set foot in the United States.
“It was really cool,” she said seconds before the BOR was suddenly plunged into darkness and she turned to a translator for help.
Tolokolnivka had just made an early exit from the ice, but not because she wasn’t enjoying herself. In fact she said the session that abruptly ended amid the hoots and hollers of a mix of grown men from Vermont and young women from Kazakhstan was the highlight of a soon-to-conclude 10-day trip.
“‘This is what I’ll remember most,’” the translator said after relaying a question to the jersey-clad hockey player who doesn’t speak much English.
“‘It’s hard, it’s fun, it’s interesting to try,’” the translator concluded.
Some were better at it than others, but even those who struggled seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Jamilya Askorova was one of them.
Askorova, 16, had a hard time staying upright while strapped into one of the sleds built on double runners that Ice Vets’ captain and Plainfield resident David Santamore brought to the BOR for Friday’s tutorial. That didn’t stop Askorova from trying — or laughing — as others whizzed around her.
Angelina Denisova was far more adept, but that didn’t prevent the 17-year-old from pushing one of the goalies into her net during one out-of-control moment.
It was by all accounts a learning experience for 12 young women who are all better at playing hockey with both legs and one long stick, than they are using two short sticks to both propel a sled and pass and shoot a puck.
Was it hard?
Askorova who turned to 14-year-old Aiym Yeldossova for a linguistic assist, nodded in agreement when she got one.
Was it fun?
“Yes,” Askorova said after consulting with her younger teammate.
Players from two Kazakhstan teams made the trip, along with their coaches and Yeldessova was one of only four who have visited the United States before.
All of them will return to the BOR this evening for a 6 p.m. scrimmage with members of the girls hockey team from Spaulding High School and the Vermont Flames. Askorova will get to use her legs during the 6 p.m. session, which will mark the sixth and final time the kids from Kazakhstan have gotten on the ice during a 10-day trip that will end where it began — in Boston — on Saturday.
The players’ visit is the first half of the latest “reciprocal exchange” organized by PH International as part of the Youth Leadership through Sport Program.
Founded as Project Harmony in 1985, the Waitsfield organization has assisted with the YLS II program that is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s sports diplomacy division.
Ivan Tabanin, works for PH International and was at the BOR as the latest exchange was winding down on Friday. The girls he said have been busy.
They spent some quality time in Boston with Montpelier native and Olympic gold medalist Amanda Pelkey. The watched Pelkey’s team the Boston Pride notch a win against the Metropolitan Riverters last Sunday and saw the Boston Bruins beat the San Jose Sharks last Tuesday.
In between Tabanin said they got to work twice with Pelkey, walked the Freedom Trail and swung by Harvard University for some strength and conditioning.
The group has been in Vermont since Wednesday when youngsters from a county that doesn’t do Halloween participated in a costumed practice with the girls’ team from Rice Memorial High School and later volunteered with members of the University of Vermont’s DREAM Program at Burlington’s “Trunk-or Treat” event.
On Thursday Norwich University played host to the visiting team, which squeezed in some sled hockey Friday morning before heading back to Burlington to volunteer at another DREAM Program event and take in a hockey game hosted by St. Michael’s College.
It will be all over, but the traveling after Saturday’s scrimmage at the BOR and Tabanin said plans to send a Vermont delegation to Kazakhstan early next year are already in the works.
The goal of the exchanges, that have involved Russia, Ukraine, Kosovo, Moldova and now Kazakhstan, is to provide youth athletes and their coaches with opportunities to learn about teamwork, mentorship, healthy living and self-discipline in a multi-cultural setting.
On Friday morning a light-less BOR fit the bill as the delegation from Kazakhstan thanked the home team for their patience and the Ice Vets praised the visitors for their persistence.