With an abundance of UCF's student and faculty population from widespread international backgrounds, traveling outside of the United States for the holidays is a fairly common occurrence. However, for two student athletes on UCF's ice hockey team, winter break was an experience of a lifetime.
Junior Jacob Solomon and sophomore Eric Knoppel were selected to represent the American Collegiate Hockey Association's Division III Selects team in Europe from Dec. 29 through Jan. 9. The 23-man team visited Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland during their 12-day trip in which they competed against three professional ice hockey teams, as well as the European University Hockey League's All-Star team.
Solomon had yet to trek across the United States' border to see the terrain of another country, and Knoppel had only seen the sights that Canada had to offer. Both viewed the trip not only as a privilege to be a part of, but an eye-opening experience that might only arise once in a lifetime.
"Seeing the culture over there and seeing how different everything is [was eye-opening]. Some of the places we went to weren't very up-to-date with America," Knoppel said. "It makes me appreciate a lot of the stuff I have a lot more."
The team was guided on five different tours, but both players agreed that Munich, Germany, on New Year's Eve was the most fun they had outside of playing hockey against professional athletes.
"My favorite place was Munich, Germany. That's where we spent New Year's. And it was a lot of fun hanging out with the guys there on New Year's and checking out the town," Solomon said. "Marienplatz [the city's core] was a good spot to see crazy amounts of fireworks."
Enjoying the night with his temporary teammates was one memory of the trip Knoppel said he won't forget.
"All of us were together the whole night … That was awesome for me," Knoppel said. "[It] was probably one of the best nights of my life."
The Selects had just three practices as a team to learn each player's style before they boarded to take an eight-hour flight from Atlanta to Munich. Solomon even found himself playing on a line with University of South Florida player Andrew Silver but said the UCF-USF rivalry fizzled in effort to unite for a common cause.
How was the level of competition, though?
"[It was a] very high skill level, and you've got to push yourself [and] play out of your comfort zone to be able to compete with these teams," Solomon said. "It was a lot of fun to play with all the guys that were selected."
The Selects laced their skates and took the ice after landing in Germany and taking a long bus ride to Switzerland to take on SC Herisau, a professional team in the country's third-highest league. The Selects fell 7-4 in their first game.
The second game of the trip allowed for a bit more rest and it surely showed as the Selects beat ECH Lustenau, a professional club in Austria's second-highest league, 4-3 after six shootout rounds. The team took on the HDK Maribor from Slovenia in their third game and ran away with a 10-1 victory. The final two games were played against the EUHL's All-Star squads and both the ACHA and EUHL teams took home a win after a shootout.
"[It was fun] playing with kids that I normally hate during the season," Knoppel said jokingly. "[But after this trip] these are some of your lifelong friends."
Jarrod Heil is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Find him on Twitter@JHeil11.