Approximately 5,700 miles may seem like a long way to travel to play hockey, but for Jordan Phillips and Ryan Neelan no distance is too far to make a dream come true.
In early April, Phillips, a freshman at Mountain Pointe, and Neelan, an eighth-grader at Horizon Honors, will be traveling to Riga, Latvia, to play for the Rocky Mountain Hockey Schools Select Team.
“It pretty much means everything to me,” Neelan said. “The ability to be able to represent your country, that’s a huge thing in hockey terms. It’s always been a dream of mine to go outside the United States just to play hockey.”
The Rocky Mountain Hockey Schools’ Latvia tour gives players the chance to compete in a minimum of eight tournament games against top European teams at the AA and AAA level.
“It feels great because not many people have been selected,” Phillips said, “so knowing that I’m on it is an honor.”
While they currently play for different teams, Phillips and Neelan have experience as teammates under coach Brian Chaffee last season. This season, Phillips plays right wing for the Phoenix Firebirds ’97 Bantam AA team through the Desert Youth Hockey Association, while Neelan plays center for the Arizona Hockey Union Bantam White Knights.
When Phillips decided to begin playing hockey with some friends three years ago, he viewed it as a test run of sorts. Upon discovering he loved playing, he has continued playing and progressing each season.
“I want to take it as far as I can and hopefully play in college and maybe even junior league afterward,” Phillips said.
Neelan’s inspiration to play came from constantly watching “The Mighty Ducks.” Ever since he jumped out on the ice 10 years ago, he’s had a passion for the sport.
“(Hockey’s) definitely helped a lot with leadership and respect for people and for school, as well, because it helps with concentration and sportsmanship,” Neelan said.
Even at his young age, Neelan sees hockey as a gateway to getting accepted into the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Because of their familiarity working with Chaffee, Phillips and Neelan train together with the coach once a week in preparation for their trip.
“Coach Chaffee is pretty much a dad to me,” Neelan said. “We’ve had a lot of good times. He’s definitely been a huge help with preparing me for this trip.”
Phillips echoed Neelan’s feelings, admiring Chaffee’s hockey knowledge as a driving force behind his continued success.
Chaffee takes pleasure in training both players in an effort to improve and maintain their skills at the competitive level their trip will require.
“They both have a strong work ethic,” Chaffee said. “(They’re) determined players that play with an edge (and) with a level of intelligence that exceeds their age.”
He also sees the journey to Latvia as more than just an opportunity to compete.
“It’s great for them to have the cultural experience to share hockey with players from other countries,” Chaffee said.
Traci Phillips, Ryan’s mother, feels the same way.
“I think it’s awesome that the boys have a chance to play hockey with other hockey players around the world, where they may not have anything in common other than the love of hockey,” Traci said.
No matter how the players view the trip, the wait is almost over.
“I want to get there as soon as I can,” Neelan said.
• Chris Cole is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a sophomore at Arizona State University.