W&M ice hockey captain enjoys ‘cultural education’ during European tour with U.S. national team

By Aaron Gray - WYDaily

“I had never been on a trip like this before,” said senior Julian Kell, who added five new stamps to his passport in two weeks as a member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) national team.

U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Adam Sterling addresses W&M senior Julian Kell and the rest of the American Collegiate Hockey Association national team before their game in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia. (Photo courtesy ACHA)

Growing up in northern Virginia, Julian Kell got used to traveling for ice hockey tournaments. During many of these trips, there would always be a little time to also see the sights.

A visit to New York City allowed his youth league team to explore the Statue Of Liberty. Then there was a trip to the Liberty Bell, when his squad made its way to Philadelphia.

Only now, as a senior at the College of William & Mary, does the educational aspect of these trips start to outweigh the action on the ice.

“I had never been on a trip like this before,” said Kell, who was a member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association national team that toured eastern Europe for two weeks and played five games against foreign competition earlier this year.

“This trip to Europe was all about cultural experiences. I learned so much while abroad. It was half hockey, half cultural education. So yes, it was the best ‘hockey trip’ I have ever been on.”

W&M senior Julian Kell, No. 22, competes with the ACHA team against Akademy KTH 1928 of the European University Hockey League. (Photo courtesy ACHA)

It was Kell’s standout performance for the W&M club ice hockey team this past season that landed him a spot on the national squad, which was comprised of the top Division III collegiate club players from around the country.

W&M’s club ice hockey program has been around for the past 30 years, but Kell was the first Tribe player to ever be selected for the national squad.

“Julian is the kind of player who commands respect on and off the ice,” said Will Payne, who serves on the William & Mary Board of Visitors and played for the school’s club team until he graduated in 2001.

“Being selected was an honor for him and traveling through Europe to play must have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for him.”

Kell’s trip was made possible by the Department of Campus Recreation and their university’s booster club, the Royal Blueliner Society.

Most of the national team players were from Minnesota, Michigan and the U.S. West Coast, Kell said. Plus, the team had only four practices together before they started to compete in Europe.

“We had to get to know each other pretty fast,” said Kell, a 5-foot-11, 220-pound senior captain for the Tribe. “But that made traveling even more interesting. It was a lot of new faces and a lot of new experiences — all at the same time.”

In all, Kell added five new stamps to his passport.

The trip started when the team flew from Albany, N.Y. to Oslo, Norway. Next up was Krakow, Poland. From there, they visited Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, followed by a jaunt through Budapest, Hungary. Then back to Slovakia. They finished up with a visit to Prague, Czech Republic, before flying back to New York City.

When they weren’t on the ice, the team independently explored each city they visited and took a tour of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland.

“Our tour guide was from Slovenia and she was very knowledgable,” said Kell, whose only previous trip across the pond took him to Ireland for a study abroad program last summer.

“She was with us in Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. My favorite stop was in Budapest. I liked it, because it was a very modern city with lots of things to do.”

Kell said he never felt discouraged while traveling with the American team in a foreign land. He described most Europeans he encountered as friendly and the competition was respectful.

But it was during one experience when the American ice hockey players drew a few inquisitive stares from the locals.

The ACHA national team pushes their bus out of a snow bank in Poland. (Photo courtesy Julian Kell)

During an excursion up in the mountains in Poland, the team’s tour bus got stuck when the driver accidentally backed into a snowbank. About 10 players got out and started to push the bus from the back in an attempt to free the bus.

“It wasn’t long until the entire team was out there pushing,” Kell said. “We finally got it loose and it’s a good thing we did because no one wanted to get stuck up in this mountain town.

“Call it team bonding — we were all pretty happy to get the bus out. Of course, some U-S-A chants were flying around in celebration. We got a few weird looks from the people in town. It’s not everyday a huge bus comes into that town and a bunch of Americans are cheering in the snow.”

During their two weeks in eastern Europe, the ACHA national team won two of their five games.

“We definitely got better the more we played with each other,” said Kell, whose squad had to quickly adapt to playing on the Olympic-sized ice rinks, which were larger than what most Americans are used to.

“The surface was wider than what the NHL plays on. Just more room to operate. It was more speed and less hitting.”

Kell is a senior this year, but will be returning to W&M next year to continue courses as he works toward his CPA exam. He started college and played ice hockey at the University of New England in Maine and then transferred to W&M after his sophomore year, which means he still has eligibility to play for the Tribe again next season.

He hopes to return as team captain and if he continues to succeed on the ice, perhaps another ‘hockey trip’ to Europe may be in his future.

“I would absolutely love to go back,” Kell said. “It really opened my eyes to what’s out there.

“Some of the guys in our league could probably play professionally over there, in some of the smaller leagues. At a time, I guess I considered it. But since coming to W&M, I’m more focused on my academics and experiencing new things.”

The team visited the Szechenyi Thermal Bath in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo courtesy Julian Kell)

W&M senior Julian Kell, center, enters the arena with his ACHA national teammates. (Photo courtesy ACHA)

W&M senior Julian Kell and the ACHA team in Oslo, Norway. (Photo courtesy Julian Kell)