Sports

Slovenian student feels Canada’s love of hockey

[attach]4002[/attach]A firm handshake greets visitors to the Wight household.

Towering in the front door frame is Slovenian-born Vid Jazbec. It’s early morning and the hockey player is gathering his clothes and equipment for his return to his home country.

He’s preparing for the IIHF World U18 Championship tournament hosted by Slovenia. He plays for the Division II Group B Slovenian squad.

It will be the first time in eight months he’s seen his country.

“My parents will be watching the game,” he said, excitement in his voice and eyes. “I don’t know if I’m leaving home or coming home.”

After experiencing Canadian hockey, Jazbec has instantly fallen in love with his home away from home. He’s been in Canada since August, staying with Mary and Lance Wight.

Mary’s second cousin is married to Jazbec’s cousin, making it easier to be his guardian while he stays in Toronto on a visa.

For Jazbec, this adventure has been all about hockey. In the small town of Trzic where he grew up, and in Bled where he practised, there are only 40–50 players his age lacing up the skates.

Now he’s experiencing something different: playing for a high school team at Northview Heights Secondary School.

“It was something new to me,” he said. “I just love it here in Canada — the friends, the hockey, everything.”

Northview won the Tier 2 title by beating Earl Haig 5-4 in overtime. Given that hockey brings Canadians together, the Phoenix fans made Jazbec feel right at home.

“The entire school came to watch the final and we won,” he said.

Phoenix coach Julian Fiorio placed the eleventh grader on a line with younger players Stephen Craig and Paul Volpe in the hopes his skills would rub off.

“I would consider him a sniper but he does have the two-way capabilities,” Fiorio said. “He’s very good at getting back in the zone and taking the puck off opposing players.”

In the corners is where he is most effective, Fiorio said.

For Jazbec, his experience at Northview has been a big help when he deals with group rivals Poland, Belarus, France, Korea and Denmark.

“When you go to a step higher, it’s a difference so you have to get used to it,” he said. “In Slovenia you have a larger ice surface but here the game is faster.”

Still, when the talk of hockey wraps up, he eagerly taps away at his computer, calling up images of Eastern Europe. Bled Castle, nestled on an island in an azure lake with mountains rising in the background, appears on the screen.

Jazbec smiles.

“I don’t want to say Slovenia isn’t beautiful,” he said. “But this is a peaceful place, it’s very nice.”

The Eastern European nation is making a bigger dent on North American hockey. Los Angeles Kings forward [url=http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8471685]Anze Kopitar[/url] and Detroit Red Wing [url=http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8473569]Jan Mursak[/url] are two of its countrymen fast becoming heroes.

Coming to Canada is a thrill of a lifetime for Jazbec.

“In Slovenia we are proud of what we have done,” he said. “We have two million people in the entire country — there’s more in Toronto.

“We’re trying hard and this is the only way we can compete with others.”