Lakers fuel US Selects to five wins in five countries
Tiefenthal, Heinrich, Smartt propel American team in European Showcase
Three members of the Grand Valley State University men’s club ice hockey team joined their head coach for a chance to travel overseas and the opportunity of a lifetime.
Head coach Mike Forbes led the U.S. ACHA Division II Select Team in the Select Team European Showcase over winter break for a two-week campaign to compete against six European teams in the Czech Republic, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia and Slovakia.
GVSU was the only program with more than two student athletes selected to the roster, which featured 23 players from 19 different schools. Senior goalie Scott Tiefenthal, senior defenseman Nick Heinrich and junior forward Matt Smartt were the Lakers chosen to wear the red, white and blue jerseys.
“The Laker Nation represented on the ACHA DII Select Team,” Forbes said. “(It was) a privilege to represent GVSU, our league and USA Hockey. Five countries, seven cities and six games made for a trip of a lifetime.”
The ACHA DII Selects took it to their overseas opponents by recording a 5-1 record. All three Lakers and their coach contributed strongly to the success of the trip.
Tiefenthal stood tall in net, posting a 2-0 record, Heinrich anchored a defense that allowed a mere 2.17 goals per game, and Smartt finished third on the team in goals after lighting the lamp five times.
“The experience could not have been better,” Tiefenthal said. “We learned about the cities we visited in Europe, as well as the culture and way of life of the Europeans. The teams from Europe were much different, employing a different style of hockey than we are used to in North America.
“The simple gameplay Coach Forbes employs was a big advantage in our team’s success.”
The trip provided more than just hockey experience for the three Laker representatives.
Prior to the icy getaway, none of the three had ever been to Europe. They were able to immerse themselves in local culture, sampling new foods and local brews in between game days.
“It was like living in a postcard,” Heinrich said.
The athletic portion of the trip kicked off in Hodonin, Czech Republic, where the Selects edged SHK Hodonin 3-2 in a shootout win. From there, they made a short trip west where they bested HC LVI Breclav by a tally of 7-3.
The next stop on tour was Landsberg am Lech, Germany, where the team ushered in the new year by extending its win streak to three games with a 7-2 victory over HC Landsberg Riverkings.
A scenic trip through Austria then placed the U.S. team in Bled, Slovenia, for a two-game stop. The team continued to roll, demolishing HK Bled by an internationally unfriendly score of 12-1. In the second contest in Bled, the Selects tore apart HK Maribor 12-2 to stay perfect.
The tour finale faced the U.S. off against the EUHL Selects Team in Bratislava, Slovakia. The Americans fell one game short of a clean Euro-sweep, falling 3-2 in their final game to cap the trip off with a 5-1 record.
Although the Selects were geographically diverse, team chemistry was not an issue. In fact, 22 of the 23 players were upperclassmen or graduate students, with Weber State University forward sophomore Dax Hobbs taking the honor of being the only underclassman selected to the team.
In addition to the seniority benefit, the majority of players filled the roles of captain or assistant captain at their respective collegiate programs — Smartt and Heinrich included.
“Chemistry wasn’t an issue at all,” Heinrich said. “We were forced to become great friends. There wasn’t one outlier on the team. We all got along, and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to bring over to Europe.”
When all was said and done, the Lakers and their American teammates returned home boasting a successful trip on the ice and unforgettable experiences off it.