As we head to the Varsity game this Saturday, we are taking a look back at the road that the Cambridge Blues travelled in the 2016/17 season so far. Today, we start with the training camp in Zuoz, Switzerlad, as captured by our own Pat 'McGroin' Gut.

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For the 17th time in as many years, the Cambridge University Men’s Ice Hockey team was graciously hosted by Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz for a week-long training camp and tournament. And what an amazing week it was.

It began with a beautifully scenic ride from the airport, weaving through the Austrian and Swiss alps, each vista more breath-taking than the last. But the most disarming sight of that 4-hour ride came in the moment the bus made its final stop: seeing this jewel of a village nestled in the valley of several majestically snow-capped mountains and knowing that this would be our home for the next seven days. Hello, Zuoz.

Arriving just after 13h00, we anxiously awaited our 17h00 ice time like children awaiting the sunrise on Christmas morning. It could not come soon enough. At around 16h00, we scurried over to the locker room, a.k.a. the “Bunker”, and set up shop. The Bunker was our Fortress of Solitude, a veritable man cave, a place as conducive to camaraderie as it is to the distinct hockey aroma that only a hockey player can truly appreciate (i.e. sweaty equipment). It was the setting for many of the great memories we will look back on in the years to come.

17h00 finally came and we made our way onto the outdoor rink in absolutely perfect weather. The sun had just set, the sky was clear, and the air was just cold enough to keep the ice hard but no colder. Anyone watching us could see the awe in our faces during our first few minutes on the ice as we glided around taking in the view of the mountains. It felt like I suddenly died and went to some glorious hockey heaven.

By the time practice ended, dusk turned to night but not to dark. The moon lit up the sky and glistened off the powder atop the peaks around us. It was surreal…

Back to the Bunker to change and head to our much anticipated first dinner in the Lyceum dining hall. The veterans on the team praised the food at Lyceum and got the rookies very excited about it. Being one of the rookies, the food still surpassed my expectations, despite all the hype. Tender lamb shanks, slow-cooked pork ribs, creamy al dente risotto, and luscious lychee sorbet are just a few of the myriad delicious rewards for our intense training sessions. The quality was exceptional and the staff in the dining hall could not have made us feel more welcome. They were warm and inviting and made our experience that much more enjoyable.

Wake up. Breakfast at the Convict. In the Bunker at 8h30. On the ice at 9h00. In the gym at 11h00. Lunch at 12h45. Nap around 14h00. Back on the ice around 16h00. Dinner at 18h30. Optional skate after dinner… This, with some slight variations, was our training routine from Monday to Friday, before the tournament began. Let’s just say that the extra kilos from all the wine and chocolate consumed over the holidays disappeared pretty quickly. It was an awesome (albeit brutal) glimpse into what life is like in the pros.

We worked hard during the day but took it easy at night. On Tuesday evening, we got to meet many of the students in the International Baccalaureate programme to talk about our academic and professional careers, after which Heather Thompson-Cavalli so generously hosted the team at her house for a very memorable evening of drinks, snacks, and great conversation. On Wednesday, Bruno and Franz accompanied us to St. Moritz for an awesome night of live music and (just one…) beer. Most other evenings consisted of a light game of shinny and then retiring to the Convict to relax and watch movies together.

On the ice, the squad took a big leap forward. Under the motivating guidance of Austrian national hockey coach Franz Sturm, we improved on our weaknesses, honed our strengths, and solidified our system. Shooting, passing, breaking out, fighting puck battles along the boards, cycling in the offensive zone, protecting the house in the defensive zone. Everything we learned and worked to perfect over the course of the week was put to the test during the tournament on Saturday.

Our biggest test in the qualifying round came against the Lyceum students team, who took an early 1-0 lead and held onto to it for most of the game. It was a hard-fought battle and their goaltender had an outstanding performance but we managed to equalize in the final minutes to squeeze out a tie.

Despite the tie though, our wins against the LAZ teachers team, ESC Dragons Sulzschneid, and the Zug Flames guaranteed us a place in the final. The final was a rematch against the Lyceum teachers team, and what a match it was. 1-1 was the score after regulation time, so we went to a shootout. Both goalies were unbeatable for four rounds of shooters but we finally found the back of the net in the fifth round for the win and the tournament title.

Saturday night was a wonderful end to our trip. After four matches in a day, we enjoyed some well-deserved refreshments and snacks at the award ceremony before the teams gathered at a restaurant for a hearty steak dinner. Drinks at the Dorta followed and lasted until just about the time our bus was scheduled to leave for the airport in the wee hours of the morning.

To everyone at Lyceum who made this week possible, especially Bruno Mauron and Dr. Karsten Plöger, we are extremely grateful for everything you continue to do for us each year. The Zuoz tournament is a tradition that our club holds dear and it is truly an honour to be a part of it. We will do everything possible to ensure that the relationship between Lyceum and Cambridge continues to flourish in the years to come.

To Franz, thank you for taking the time to share your wisdom and experience. We hope you can come back every year.

In his famous short story, The Hockey Sweater, Canadian author Roch Carrier wrote of his childhood, saying: “we lived in three places – the school, the church and the skating rink – but our real life was on the skating rink.” There is something so magical about being on an outdoor rink with friends playing this beautiful game. Thank you, Lyceum, for providing that magic, for making us feel like kids again. We will never forget it.