Members of the Lighthouse International Tournament from China, Japan, Finland and the United States—along with their coaches and families—were the honored guests at a banquet held at the Long Island Marriott on Monday night. The evening was highlighted by a speech from Islanders owner Charles B. Wang.
“Congratulations to all of our participants,” said Wang. “We’ve all learned that hockey has become a bridge for a multi-cultural experience that these kids will never forget. The Lighthouse International Tournament will create memories for a lifetime for these children that share a common bond—hockey. The New York Islanders Children’s Foundation is very proud to be the organizer of this event. I want to give a special thanks to all of the grown-ups, who have been such a big part of this process because this would have never happened if they didn’t give their support. We are so very proud of the competitive spirit—it is an inspiration. We are already looking forward to next year’s tournament, which I promise you will be even bigger.”
Less than one week ago, the more than 100 kids participating in the tournament knew none of the players from the other teams. However, by Monday night they were exchanging e-mails and gifts, and sharing laughs thanks to the common bond of hockey. With everyone leaving for home on Tuesday, this was a goodbye for many of them.
“It was a great experience,” said Brendan Ekstrom from Team Nassau. “All of the other kids were great and really fun to interact with. It was nice that some of the kids gave gifts away to us. We exchanged phone number and e-mail addresses to keep in touch. We hope to write and call each other some times.”
With the tournament expected to expand to as many as 16 teams for the 2010 Lighthouse International Tournament, a whole new group of youth hockey players will have the unparalleled experience the Islanders organization is proud to support.
“This amazing adventure of bringing these kids together for this international competition has come to an end,” said Dan Bedard, the Islanders Director of Amateur Hockey Development. “I want to thank Charles Wang and all of the staff of the Islanders for making the kids feel special. Everyone will cherish their moments and think of their favorite time they had here.”FRIENDSHIP GAMES
Three days of intense competition at the Lighthouse International Tournament, presented by Modell’s Sporting Goods, KyLinTV and Long Island Marriott, pitted teams from different countries against one another. On Monday at Islanders Iceworks, that all changed with the Friendship Games.
With the over-arching theme of the week being friendship, bonding and crossing cultural boundaries, the five teams from outside of the United States split up to form new teams with kids from different countries playing together.
Kids from China were seen celebrating with their teammates from Japan and Finland. Even while awaiting their next shift, the kids from different countries were speaking in English to discuss strategy.
"I thought it would be harder to play with them, but there was some chemistry there," said Han Yun Hun of Harbin about his Japanese and Finnish teammates. "We used sign language to communicate. You’re just playing hockey, so there’s not a lot to talk about."
Most importantly, the kids were laughing and having a good time with their new friends.
"It was really nice to play with the kids we had been playing against, said Ryo Toyoda of Japan. "It was really nice to make friends from other countries and get to know what it’s like there. I hope to keep in touch with some of them."
What made the experience even more fun for some of the youngsters was being able to play against players from their own country. The kids from Finland had particular interest in checking their fellow Finns on the opposing squad. With hitting prohibited during tournament play, this was their opportunity to get some physical play out of their system.
"We like to hit in Finland, so it was fun to play with some hitting today, said Ilves skater Valtteri Viitakoski. "We were hitting everyone out there, but it was fun. Next year we get to do it in Finland in our league."
Following the Friendship Games, the Chinese teams from Harbin and Qiqihar took part in a skills competition, while the Japanese and Finnish teams received autographs from the Islanders players.
"It’s nice to see the Finnish kids," said Finland-native Sean Bergenheim. "It must be great for them to see the NHL games. I’m sure it’s a lot of the kids’ dreams to play here one day. I didn’t get to do this at their age. I would have died to do that."
Before leaving tomorrow, the Chinese teams will have to find space in their luggage for the extra equipment they will be bringing back to their respective cities. As a gesture of gratitude for China’s hospitality earlier this year, members of Cantiague Park in Hicksville donated hockey equipment to help spread the sport to even more players in the cities of Qiqihar and Harbin. Click here
to read the Lighthouse International Tournament Blog.READ ALSO: