By Kristin Schultz
Willem Mizenko will bid au revoir to Niskayuna for 10 days in February and head to Quebec City to compete in an international hockey tournament.
The Iroquois Middle School seventh-grader has been playing hockey for more than five years and has put on goalie pads for the past three years for teams in the Troy Albany Hockey Association.
Although he is only 12 years old, Mizenko has been playing for teams with older kids and is currently on the Troy Albany Titans, a AAA Bantam team.
On top of playing for a local team, he tried out for a regional team, the Adirondack Jr. Wings, and is one of two Capital Region players to earn a spot on the elite Pee Wee team that was invited to compete in the Quebec Pee Wee International Tournament.
“I was happy and sort of surprised,” Mizenko said of making the team. He tried out last year and did not make it.
The Quebec Pee Wee International Tournament is a more than 50-year-old event that invites teams from more than 15 countries to participate. The Jr. Wings will play in a class featuring teams from Colorado to the Czech Republic.
This is more than a run-of-the-mill travel team tournament. The players will stay with a Quebecois family and will attend the annual Winter Carnival, making for a multicultural experience.
Mizenko, who has been to Canada but never Quebec, is preparing physically by working with a trainer on quickness, core strength and moving well across the crease.
He is also trying to learn French, so he can communicate with his host family. So far he knows how to say, “Hi, how are you?” and “Welcome.” He is practicing other phrases including learning how to ask for water and the location of the bathroom.
“I’m excited to be a part of the culture,” Mizenko said. “I’m looking forward to going to Winter Carnival and playing.”
When he’s not taking the ice, Mizenko likes to play baseball and was on the junior varsity golf team. He plans to keep playing hockey through his high school years.
His parents will get to travel to the tournament as well but will stay in a hotel, while Mizenko and a teammate stay with a local family.
The tournament itself is billed as the unofficial Pee Wee world championships and has seen the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Guy Lafleur, Mario Lemieux and other all-time greats skate as youngsters.
Mizenko will head north on Feb. 7 and return on Feb. 18.