The USA Men's Bandy team wrapped up it's trip to Almaty, Kazakhstan last week, after competing in the World Championships of Bandy. And while the team did not experience the amount of success they had hoped for, they did manage to make some new acquaintances, and explore an unfamiliar country together on what some described as possibly the best team trip they had ever been involved with.
This was the first U.S. Bandy team to play in Kazakhstan, since the inception of American Bandy in 1980. The team's first impression of Kazakhstan was a good one, as they expected to find an empty airport upon arrival, when their plane landed in Almaty after 2:00 AM on January 28th. Instead, they entered the airport to find twenty volunteers in matching jackets anxiously awaiting their arrival, and very happy to see them. The volunteers picked up the teams bags and loaded them onto the teams bus before the American players even knew what had happened. Asked about the Kazakhstan people, Fullback David Plaunt said enthusiastically "very nice!". He added "You could tell they wanted to make a good impression, and they certainly did. If I could have done it, I would have given each and every one of them a high five".
Wednesday, February 1st was the first pleasant day the team had experienced in Almaty, as the sun cleared off much of the smog that plagues the city, offering a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. Because of the beautiful weather, some of the players deciced to take it outdoors and set out to watch some games in the B and C Pools. They decided on the Japan versus Kyrgyzstan game, as both teams were first year participants at the World Bandy Championships. The Japanese players seemed to appreciate the fact that the Americans had come to watch their game, and the two sides met and talked after the game. Later that day, the U.S. took on Sweden at Medeo, and about a dozen of the Japanese players came out to watch, cheering on the American team and chanting "U S A" throughout the game. After the game, the players again chatted, and exchanged pins and hats. In a side note, the Japanese fared well in their first Bandy Championship ever, going 3-1-1 in round robin play, including 13-0 and 8-0 drubbings of Kyrgyzstan. Playing in the A Pool the last few years has been a good way for the Americans to establish friendships with some of the "big boys" of the world Bandy family, after getting to know the teams of the B Pool over many years of competing against one another. Knowing how important the relationships with these teams and players has been, the American players enjoyed the opportunity to reach out to their new friends from Japan, and make their acquaintance.
Throughout the rest of the week, the team used their down time to catch up on sleep, wander through outdoor markets, go shooting at an indoor gun range, take over the local karaoke bar, and even go skiing at Shymbulak Ski Resort outside of Almaty. Because the team came with the bare minimum of gear, and never planned on skiing, it made for an interesting experience, and unusual sight, as the men hit the slopes of Kazakhstan in their USA Bandy gear, including pants, jersey's and helmets.
The Federation of International Bandy has announced that the 2013 Bandy World Championship will be held in Sweden. Vanersborg will be the tournament home, but there are also matches planned for Gothenburg, and Oslo, Norway.