By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News
Steiner Ranch resident Arys Perardi, a 4th grader at River Ridge Elementary, attended the CCM World Invitational Minor Hockey Tournament in Beijing, China recently, and he also enjoyed the trip of a lifetime.
The tournament, July 31 to Aug. 8, was sponsored by the Beijing Tigers Hockey Club and the China Ice Star Management Group in the lead up to China hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Ayrs traveled to China with his dad and coach, Eric Perardi, along with his stepmom Rachel, older sister Ryleigh, 13, and brother Matteo, 12, while youngest brother Tres, 6, stayed home in Austin.
As Eric explains, playing in the tournament, “were (kids) with ages from 8 years old all the way up to 17… They decided that they’re having the winter Olympics so they wanted to bring in international teams from all over the world to compete against their kids so their kids would be ready.”
Arys’ USA Stampede team was one of several international teams invited to compete. As one of the coaches, Eric helped to assemble the team, comprised of kids from Austin, from Tulsa and Oklahoma City “and one Canadian kid,” according to Eric.
A love of hockey is a family affair for the Perardis. Arys, 9, has played since age 5 at the Chaparral ice rink where he currently plays for the Texas Junior Stars. Eric played Division I hockey in college and has coached Ayrs from the beginning. The family’s passion for the sport is such that they even have a synthetic indoor ice hockey rink above their garage.
In Beijing, the team played on an Olympic-sized rink for the first time, and though USA Stampede did not advance in the competition, Arys’ family did not waste the opportunity to travel in and around the city of 30 million residents.
Opportunity of a lifetime
It took 17 hours for the family to get to Beijing, with a layover in San Francisco. Once there, Arys immediately started noticing the differences common in foreign travel: having to drink bottled water, the smell of cigarettes everywhere, the public toilets that were, “just holes. I didn’t use them,” said Arys.
The food in China “tasted a lot different than the Chinese food (in the U.S.). I really wanted a burger when I got back,” though he did enjoy local specialties like steak flavored chips and duck, which to Arys, “tastes like chicken!”
Arys was particularly struck by the hotel pool, which was different from American pools full of rowdy kids. He said that, “In the pool you had to wear a cap. And you could only swim laps. In the (men’s locker room) hot tub, people were naked.”
Despite the family of five sharing one hotel room, they enthusiastically toured notable sites like the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven.
“Seeing the Great Wall was amazing,” said Eric with awe. “That’s the one man-made thing you can see from space… And we saw things that were built in the 11th century or 12th century, things that most westerners probably will never see in their lifetimes.”
At times, the family itself was the attraction. Donning traditional Chinese dress at the Temple of Heaven, the family was photographed for about 40 minutes by Chinese tourists.
“They don’t really see westerners,” explains Eric. “So we would be taking pictures of the Great Wall… and they were taking pictures of us.”
Nonetheless, Eric found that, “The people were for the most part really nice. They were very curious about how we looked. They couldn’t really talk to us but they wanted to take pictures with us or be around us.”
Arys noticed too that, despite seeing entire families perched on scooters barrelling around town, when his own family of five tried to get around, “You’re not allowed to have five people in a cab… I had to sneak on the cab,” and lie on the floor out of sight of the police.
Ayrs picked up an assortment of souvenirs to remember his trip by, including several Buddhas, a traditional woven hat, a mini model of the Great Wall and a wooden sword. He did have to leave one item behind when his Magic 8 Ball was confiscated by airport security during their departure.
An amazing sport
Another special souvenir is Arys’ new collection of pins from the other teams in attendance representing countries around the world: Canada, Germany, Korea, Indonesia, Finland, Sweden, and even another U.S. team. Arys’ team is already talking about visiting some of the European teams they met during the trip.
Playing against teams from different countries also meant different styles of play. Ayrs especially liked that. “You could hit (into other players),” and he confesses to having, “hit a couple kids. It was fun!”
Eric points out the potential significance of the Chinese players against which his team competed. “Some of the kids that Ayrs played against could potentially be on the Chinese Olympic team when they play in six years… They’re hoping to get their kids up to speed with the rest of the world by the time the Olympics arrives.”
For Eric, the trip represents the valuable role hockey has played in his life, a role he also sees hockey playing for his son and family.
“Hockey’s gotten me a college education. I’ve gotten to travel to Europe for it. I’ve made so many friends. So to actually be able to coach and have my son and family be able to go to China because of the sport — it’s an amazing sport that gives back to the players that play it.”