Hockey and life, from Roseville to Russia
The U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission Hockey Exchange was designed to encourage a mutual understanding between the people of the two countries.
And with that in mind, the trip was all it was advertised to be for Roseville 15-year-old Jake Olenak.
Olenak trained for a week in October the Russian way, under Russian coaches. He met Russian players who achieved stardom, some in the National Hockey League and others who never received the opportunity, and competed with his coed teammates from California and Minnesota against a Russian national alumni team in a game that was televised.
Away from the ice, Olenak experienced daily life in Russia, noted its similarities and differences, toured the Presidential Palace, Red Square, the Kremlin, a World War II museum and spoke at a school.
It was that part of the experience — and the knowledge and appreciation Jake retained when he returned home — that impressed his dad, Dan, who noted that Jake didn’t do the expected teenage-boy thing and break out pictures of tanks and guns. He showed his dad pictures he took at the museum of several books, which listed the names of all the Russian soldiers who were killed in World War II.
“He had a tremendous personal growth in that respect,” said Dan Olenak, a longtime fan of the Chicago Blackhawks. “To be able to point that out to other kids at school, take a look at these 40 books that are a foot thick of all the Russian soldiers that never came home, it made me proud that he could recognize that.”
During a quick stop for orientation and a tour in Washington before jetting to Moscow, Jake took what the U.S. team was told to heart — “We were told we were ambassadors once we leave,” he said — and ran with it when the plane touched down.
The U.S. team visited schools and talked to the students. While many players spoke to 11th-graders, Jake, still 14 when he made the trip, talked to fourth-graders. Jake noted that Russia teaches English in school “the way we teach Spanish over here.”
He described the Presidential Palace, Red Square and the Kremlin as “beautiful places.”
“Everything was golden,” he said. “Everything on the roofs and stuff was gold.”
The traffic also stood out in Jake’s mind. He said when there is an accident, the people “just push their cars to the side of the road and keep walking down the street. The police don’t even show up.” People also park their vehicles on the street because there are no parking spaces.
Jake, a freshman who wrestles on the JV team at Woodcreek High School, discovered hockey about five years ago at Skatetown in Roseville. He said he was hooked on the sport instantly.
The U.S. team trained in Novogorsk under the organization of Russian Hockey Federation Vice President Igor Tuzik. While the American way to train is based more on games and shooting, Jake said Russian drills focus more on skating and passing.
“They’re really good skaters,” said Jake, a 5-foot-7, 152-pound defenseman who brought home a new way to look at the game. “When you don’t have the puck, you’ll still be an important player if you get open and move your guy out of the way, because that takes that guy out of the play.”
Jake and his teammates met Russian hockey legends Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Vladislav Tretiak, and they watched two Kontinental Hockey League games in Moscow.
As a player with the Golden State Elite Midget 16AA Tier team based between Vacaville, Dublin and San Mateo, Jake has played at the San Jose Sharks’ complex. He said the fans at KHL games are different.
“At a Sharks game, people yell. Over there, they just sit down and clap,” he said. “There were some yellers. There’s usually a die-hard fan section. They have flags and banners and stuff. They’re waving them around trying to distract the goalie.”
He said Russian hockey is a physical game with hitting and bumping but lacks the open-ice hits and fighting craved by American fans.
Contact Bill Poindexter at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at BillP_RsvPT.