Ice hockey is one of those sports that unites cultures. Being a sport that is played all around the world, the hockey community stretches globally. We all understand that integrating across cultures can be a very tough process, but the Castleton University hockey team has found a way to make that transition a lot easier.
“Being part of a group with a bunch of dudes being dudes definitely made the transition of moving abroad easier,” said senior hockey player Alex Maunula. “You just basically enter a family with more than 20 other guys who enjoy doing the same things as you do,” Maunula added.
Maunula is from Helsinki, Finland, and is one of many athletes on the team that came to CU from a different country. Along with Maunula is freshman Simon Brenter, of Austria.
“I like the support that we get around here in Castleton. People do a lot for me and my team and are always willing to help. I did not have any trouble at all finding friends and having a good time,” Brenter said.
A young star
Brenter started his hockey journey at the ripe-old age of three years old and made the switch to being a goalie at seven, which he stuck with. His dream was always to become a professional hockey player in Austria, and he followed that dream very tightly, as he “played in the highest Austrian league at every age group,” Brenter said.
This led him to a position where he had the chance to be a back-up in the highest professional Austrian league at 17-years-old.
“That was a dream come true,” Brenter said.
He topped off his resume by being on the list of reserves for team Austria in the past two world juniors.
That would be a wrap on his Austrian hockey journey, as he became “fascinated by North American college hockey leagues,” and decided that he wanted to play college hockey.
Brenter and his family did a lot of research, and then got in touch with various coaches.
“Castleton was the fitting offer for me and that’s what led me here,” he said.
Being a freshman, Brenter is still very new to the United States, but that hasn’t deterred him at all.
“I really like living here so far, and I really enjoy learning about a different culture,” Brenter said.
While Brenter might be new to the United States, Maunula, a senior, has had much more time to settle in, and he has nothing but positive remarks about his new home.
“American culture is much more open, and there is a sense of care in everyone you talk to,” Maunula said. “I could definitely see myself living in the United States after graduation as well, but we’ll see what life has to offer,” Maunula added.
Having grown up in the largest city in Finland, one of the biggest changes for Maunula was the switch to a remote location.
“The sense of tight knit community is definitely something different from what I’m used to,” Maunula said.
“Hockey is hockey”
As Maunula made the transition from Finland to the United States, he also had to adjust from hockey in Finland to hockey in the United States.
Or did he?
“Hockey is hockey, no matter where you go,” Maunula said.
Even though hockey stayed the same for Maunula, what he did outside of hockey got harder,
“Being a student athlete definitely challenges you from time to time with scheduling,” Maunula said. “It also teaches you time management and prepares you for the real world out there,” he added.
On the other hand, Brenter has found differences in hockey here as opposed to hockey in Austria.
In the United States, the hockey rink is smaller than they are in other parts of the world. According to Brenter, this makes the game more physical.
“There is less space on the ice which leads to more people running into each other,” Brenter said.
With Brenter being a goalie, the smaller rink makes another difference in the way he plays his position. The variation in surface area creates different angles that Brenter must defend against.
“That means skill is more important,” Brenter said.
The team didn’t necessarily get the ending they had hoped for, as their season ended with a first-round exit from the NEHC Tournament.
As a senior this was the last ride for Maunula as a part of this spartan hockey team.
“It feels pretty empty obviously,” Maunula said. “You put so much time and energy into one place and then it just kind of ends,” he added.
“We obviously didn’t end with the result we wanted for the year, but as a group and program we definitely took steps towards the right direction,” Maunula said. Now that this season is over, Maunula has taken time to reflect on not just this past season, but his entire time at CU.
“I feel like I left the program in a better place than four years ago when I arrived here,” Maunula said.
Even though Maunula might be finished playing hockey for CU, Brenter still has a lot more time left in him. The freshman touched on how much he learned from this past season, and how he plans to carry himself into the future.
“One big thing we learned is how to play and work through adversity. We learned that it isn’t always going to be easy, and we just have to work through it,” Brenter said. Brenter also gave a lot of credit to the older goalies and veteran players for teaching him these lessons.
“I’m very excited about the future of our program, and I feel like we are in good hands,” Brenter said.