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(From left to right) Joe Breslin, Mike LaFrenier, Head Coach Sean Hogan, Matt Hartman and Matt Rudin will all be representing Ohio University and Team USA in Kazakhstan at the World University Games.

Hockey: Five Bobcats travel to Kazakhstan to play for Team USA

Matt Hartman won’t lie. He’s a little nervous.

Hartman, the senior captain from Shaker Heights, was one of five Bobcats selected to play for Team USA at the World University Games in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

“I’ve never been anywhere that far,” said Hartman, whose farthest venture from home has been Mexico. “But it’s an experience. It’s going to be awesome.”

Joining Hartman in Kazakhstan are fellow forwards Joey Breslin and Matt Rudin, defenseman Mike LaFrenier and coach Sean Hogan, who will serve as Team USA’s head coach. The games run Jan. 29 through Feb. 8.

Team USA, which is an all-star group from the American Collegiate Hockey Association, came together for five days in Boston between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Seeing his Team USA gear for the first time, the gravity of the situation sunk in for Hartman.

“That’s something that you work toward your whole life when you’re a young kid,” he said. “It really is a huge honor.”

The team is made up of 22 players from 12 ACHA teams. They unite as familiar foes who know very little or nothing about one another. But rivalries are set aside for an event like this, where team chemistry is practically a must to succeed.

Spending most hours of the day together, in a country 11 time zones away, should help. The days in Boston at the end of December were a good start, too, where the team’s results improved as they spent more time together.

Team USA played three exhibition games in Boston and had moderate success. After taking a 10-1 beating against NCAA Division I Holy Cross, the players bounced back with 2-0 and 10-2 wins over the Eastern Hockey League All-Stars.

At the games, Team USA will be pitted against teams from around the globe, including Canada, Slovakia and Great Britain in round-robin play.

Breslin, the only Ohio player returning from the seventh-place USA team in 2015, said his advice for the new guys is to “embrace the moment.

“Just take it all in because it’s a good experience,” he said. “And you get to represent your country.”

Part of embracing the moment is traveling to a part of the world that none of the players are familiar with. Rudin and Hartman sought out Google Images for some research on Almaty and both concluded that it resembled a miniature Dubai.

Aside from the time change and the distance (the team will travel nearly 24 hours by plane), the players will have to adjust to wearing half-shield visors instead of protective metal cages that are required in ACHA games.

“It was a lot different,” said Hartman, who, unlike his teammates, never wore a visor in his junior hockey career. “But you breathe better. I felt you could see better, too.”

“I just have to make sure I wear a mouth guard,” Breslin added. “Hopefully I don’t lose any teeth.”

Being selected for the World University Games is a rare honor, and certainly not something the Bobcats are taking lightly.

When the puck drops Monday, Jan. 30 against Canada, the nerves will give way for excitement and national pride.

“I’m glad I got the privilege to play on the team,” Rudin said. “It’s like that next step. You’re not just representing your school, you’re representing the whole country.”


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