Niagara University senior winger Sam Goodwin achieved the opportunity -- literally.
When the Purple Eagles season ended last spring, Goodwin traveled to the remote town of Bagamoyo in northern Tanzania, a country in the heartland of Africa's east coast between Kenya and Mozambique on the Indian Ocean.
History made at Merrimack
For the first time in its history, the Warriors are ranked the No. 1 team; they also remain the only undefeated team.
"We're happy to be recognized on a national level," said Mark Dennehy, in his seventh season as Merrimack's head coach. "It's a tribute to the coaching staff, administration and players who have worked tirelessly to turn the program around in such a short period of time. But at the same time, it is important for us to recognize the difference between recognition and accomplishment."
After winning just three games and scoring 37 goals in 34 games in 2006-07, Merrimack returned to the Hockey East playoffs for the first time in five years in 2009-10. Last season, they won a Division I school record 25 games, advancing to their first-ever Hockey East Championship, and a first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1988, all while reaching a No. 4 rank, highest at that time in program history.
Merrimack (8-0-1, 6-0-1 HE) hosted Alabama-Huntsville Wednesday night.
The school donated a portion of the game proceeds to the Friends and Family of Chic Kelly Foundation. In 1988, at age 18 -- after making the hockey team on a tryout -- Kelly was tripped during a routine skating drill and crashed head first into the boards; the impact left him a C-5 quadriplegic. Merrimack honored Chic and his foundation in a special pregame ceremony prior to the game.
-- Bob Snow
"I really enjoy traveling and seeing new places, and in general, I just enjoy helping people," Goodwin told NHL.com as he detailed the two-week life-altering trip. "This was obviously that with a completely different culture."
"I had a connection through a family friend who had been there," said Goodwin about the opportunity to teach at the Nianjema School and relate to the village culture of a remote region.
"I lived in the village where the overwhelming majority was poverty. American citizen Charlie Sloan, who was in the Peace Corps in Tanzania, went back because this is what he wanted to do with his life. I was fortunate to stay with him with a bed and a room and running water. The majority had none of these. Homes were made out of whatever materials they could put together.
"The school was a series of smaller buildings; it was a private school that had boarding students from surrounding villages and local village students."
For Goodwin, the No. 1 need for upward mobility was simple-speak.
"The primary goal of the school," he emphasized, "is to promote the English language as much as possible. Education in all subjects is important, but in the country of Tanzania, the primary language is Swahili. If you only know Swahili in your life in that country, it's really hard to be real successful. Mr. Sloan's mission was: 'If we can teach these kids English, it will give them a step up on everybody else and hopefully a fighting chance at being more successful than the average Tanzanian.'"
To this day, Goodwin wrestles with the overall definition of "success."
"They have a different definition of success than we do," he said pensively. "I don't know exactly how to explain that, but just having that tool to speak English is very valuable. And very few people in that area are fortunate enough to learn that and be educated.
While the lessons he taught were basic, those he learned were quite the opposite.
"The biggest thing that changed me is it's really important to go there and see the culture and how people live their everyday lives. It helps me to deal with what we call 'problems' that I have in my life. I'm upset I have to write a paper or my coach is on my back or I get sick. But when I finish the paper or get sick, I can get a meal or see a doctor for the right medicine. So many of the kids in Bagamoyo don't have that. How lucky am I when I think of that and have what I have?
"We absolutely have it pretty good here."
Predictably, the Frozen Four or the Stanley Cup Playoffs are not exactly staple topics in Tanzania.
"They had no prior knowledge of hockey," Goodwin said, chuckling as he talked about how he attempted to explain the sport in a locale far removed from the breeding grounds of NCAA and NHL rosters. "Only soccer was their sport. One or two times I made the attempt to explain how people can put these skates on and glide around on ice when most had barely ever seen any form of ice. I wasn't very successful, but I did the best I could."
What comes for Goodwin in the international landscape after he leaves Niagara Falls, New York, after three seasons of play and awaits clearance from a preseason concussion to begin his 2011-12 season?
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Oh yeah, that shirt-off-his-back experience that befits Thanksgiving week?
"Of the thousands of experiences there," Goodwin said, "the one that was really interesting was the last day. We brought all old clothes that we just wore as the days went by. My mom always has a box of old clothes she gives to the poor. I took the clothes that probably would have gone in that box. On the last day, we brought all these clothes to give away to the students. I had a big suitcase with all the clothes I had worn. I opened it and gave a shirt to one boy. Then another asked for a shirt. Before I knew it, there was mayhem. Once the word got out, there were kids coming from everywhere about clothes being given away. The entire suitcase was gone in what seemed like 30 seconds. Kids were running around so excited that they had a new shirt or pair of socks.
"Puts a lot of things in perspective."