Jake Houston didn’t quite understand the magnitude of what he saw.
The Pittsburgh Penguins had tweeted congratulations to Houston on being selected to Team USA for the 2019 Winter World University Games.
Houston had just thought it was his AAA team, the Penguins Elite, wishing him good luck on the tournament in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. He was just a little shocked when he realized it was actually the NHL team.
“Pretty cool to get some recognition,” Houston said.
Houston was selected for the team alongside fellow junior Gianni Evangelisti. The two of them are heading to Russia together, joining nine other Central States Collegiate Hockey League players for the tournament.
The two are excited to represent their country from March 1-9 — and hopefully win a medal while they’re over there. The 2017 team was 3-2 in its games and finished in ninth place.
“We’re going over there to try and win a medal,” Evangelisti said. “We’re going to play some good competition, but I’m excited.”
The two will join a team made up of NCAA Division I and American Collegiate Hockey Association players. The skaters on the team are used to the stereotypical North American style of play in which the puck is dumped into the offensive zone, then chased down.
They’ll have to adjust to a faster game, facing off against a high level of competition. It’ll also help with the ACHA skaters having played in Illinois’ “Big Pond,” which lends itself to the style of play expected in the World University Games.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Houston said. “I don’t really know what to expect. Just going to go over there and play the best hockey I can.”
Houston and Evangelisti aren’t going into the international tournament blind. They’ve got some guidance from coach Sean Hogan and senior Matt Rudin, who were both a part of the 2017 team. Hogan was that team’s head coach.
There are also former Bobcats who have experience playing for Team USA. Michael Harris, who both played and coached for Ohio, played in the 2015 tournament in Granada, Spain. He and Houston have been texting about what he’s going to experience while in Siberia.
“He just said go over and enjoy it,” Houston said. “It’s a different level of hockey, so it’s going to be something pretty special.”
The hockey may be a different level of competition, a different type of competition, but the tournament is going to bring together people from different cultures together. All the athletes will be staying in an Olympic village, and the interaction will be fun for both Houston and Evangelisti.
“It’s going to be a cool experience,” Evangelisti said.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” Houston said. “We’ll see what they feed us.”