MINSK, Belarus -- Members of the United States Hockey Team were honored guests at a garden reception hosted by government officials at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk on Tuesday evening.
Representing Team USA were Jimmy Hayes, Johnny Gaudreau, Jake McCabe, Connor Murphy and Drew Shore along with Sochi 2014 Olympic silver medalists Julie Chu and Hilary Knight. Four-time Olympic medalist and International Olympic Committee member Angela Ruggiero joined her former Olympic teammates on what was a memorable evening for all.
Defenseman Jake McCabe – a member of the gold-medal winning 2013 U.S. National Junior Team – said the event was a worthwhile break from hockey.
“It was nice to get away from the rink and talk to people from other countries as well as other Americans here and just see how big of a deal this championship really is over here,” said McCabe, 20. “The city has great pride in their hockey, so it was nice to get celebrated a little bit and share our USA Hockey experience.”
U.S. Charge’ d’Affaires Ethan Goldrich and U.S. Senator (shadow) from the District of Columbia Paul Strauss warmly welcomed the team to Belarus.
Addressing the players in a short, but poignant opening speech, Goldrich said: “I want you to know how proud we all are to have you here in Belarus, where we don’t get so many American guests, much less than a team full of NHL stars, who have already won two of their first three games.”
Goldrich is the highest-ranking official at the U.S. Embassy. As of 2008, due to restrictions imposed by the Belarusian government, the Embassy was forced to withdraw its ambassador and reduce its staff from 35 to five diplomats.
“Belarus and the United State have our history of disagreements,” Goldrich continued. “I don’t expect that we will solve all our disagreements overnight, but I do think that getting to know each other better, including through sport, we stand a better chance of hearing each other and finding solutions.”
USA Hockey Assistant Executive Director Jim Johansson said that it was a good opportunity for the young players to meet a host of Americans working and living abroad, while also representing the U.S. with numerous foreign guests present.
“It’s neat to share with the people we have over here representing our government and also good for our players to get out in the community and see the U.S. Embassy people and the relationships that they’re building with contacts from the various other countries,” Johansson said.
While the U.S. guys have been proudly wearing the Red, White and Blue representing their nation at the tournament – the first-ever contested in Belarus – Chu and Knight have been in Minsk taking part in the U.S. Embassy sports envoy program, teaching hockey and sport to young Belarusian students and athletes.
“It’s nice to see programs outside of what USA Hockey does or the IIHF does, working and exposing the game and sport to more boys and girls and we can’t pick better representatives to bring that message out,” Johansson said about the U.S. Olympic medalists.
Also present, on what was a sunny and pleasant early Tuesday evening, were government officials from various nations, including Great Britain, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Slovakia and Sweden; guests from the Belarusian Ministry of Sport and Ministry of Tourism and Foreign Affairs; Belarusian freestyle skiing Olympic medalists and local media.
Thanks to the efforts of the staff at the U.S. Embassy, the occasion was an enjoyable, cultural, and thought-provoking experience for all who were fortunate to attend.