Zionsville resident Danny Mateja got the opportunity of a lifetime this month, representing the United States in the Student Hockey Challenge in Barnaul, Russia.
Mateja currently plays for the University of Cincinnati club team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
“I’m very excited to go over there and play,” Mateja said before he left on the trip. “I have never been able to travel out of the country, and to travel the world doing something that I love is exciting.”
Mateja was one of 22 players selected from ACHA Division 2 schools to play in the Student Hockey Challenge.
Players were selected based on performances over the past year playing for their schools.
Mateja, who graduated from Zionsville in 2015, originally attend Rose-Hulman upon graduation, which doesn’t have a hockey team. But after a change in major, he decided to transfer to Cincinnati.
He originally wasn’t going to pick up hockey again, but after running into the coach and having a conversation, decided to go out for the team.
Mateja and the Bearcats found great success, advancing to the national semifinals as he registered 28 goals and 34 assists, including four hat tricks in his first year with the Bearcats.
“The coach put a lot of trust in me to have a big role on the team and I was able to take advantage of that,” Mateja said. “I have the best teammates and they helped me succeed. My roommate Brandon Armstrong was on a line with me and we always knew where each other were and really played well together.”
Armstrong will be making the trip to Russia with Mateja and they will be on the same line.
Mateja said it will be great to have a familiar friend and teammate experiencing the trip with him.
“We really do everything together,” Mateja said. “While we were having conversations with the coaches during the selection process, we pretty much decided it was going to be both of us or none of us going. Luckily we were both selected and will get to have this experience.”
The United States team will have three scheduled games on Oct. 1-3, playing against teams from Barnaul, Russia, the Czech Republic and Kazan, Russia.
Mateja, who has played hockey since the age of four, said one of the things he is looking forward to is playing against different styles.
“It is going to be a little crazy, playing against some of the other best college kids in the world,” Mateja said. “It will really put some things in perspective. I think I am really looking forward to playing the different countries, and seeing the different styles of play. That and just hanging out with the guys on the team and getting to know each other.”
The ACHA Select team went 2-2 in Russia, losing two close games in pool play.
Mateja scored in a shootout to help his team win their game in pool play.
Growing up, Mateja played for several different hockey teams that took him around the country playing the game.
His senior year, he played with Zionsville under head coach Aaron Wallace and won the Hobey Baker Award which is given to the player that best exemplifies best exemplifies sportsmanship and character.
Mateja said his year playing at Zionsville helped him grow as a player.
“Coach Wallace is a great coach,” Mateja said. “I wasn’t a big scorer before then, and they wanted me to score and shoot more. I really learned how to score playing for them and it really helped my game a lot.”
Mateja said his advice to young hockey players is to put in the work to reach your goals.
“You really have to put in the time,” Mateja said. “It isn’t like a lot of sports that you can just go to the backyard and play. You have to commit to and love the game. So just get out there are much as you can.”