Owatonna is Home Away from Home for Junior Hockey Players
Danville, IL is about seven hours from Owatonna. Litomerice in the Czech Republic is seven time zones from Minnesota. Steele County Blades hockey players Joey Bunton, from the former, and Matej Cech, from the latter, both say Owatonna has the feel of home as they settle in for the season. It's pretty natural for Bunton, who is in his third season with the Blades and fourth in junior hockey.
Cech is making his junior hockey debut this winter. The soon-to-be 18-year-old [birthday is November 11] played hockey in Minnesota last winter as well, He says hockey is quite a bit different in the US, "I just wanted to try new experiences, learn a language, and become better at hockey." He is perfecting his English while learning other languages in a locker room that has players from at least six countries.
His hometown is about an hour from Prague, Czechoslovakia, "It's kind of like small city. The town is really based on historic culture...same size like Owatonna. So, it's not that big. There's a lot old buildings from 15th century. So, it's nice." As you will hear in the interview below, Cech says "Owatonna" perfectly.
Bunton has no trouble pronouncing his adoptive hometown and has gotten involved in the community, "I do photography for the paper [Steele County Times]. I've been doing that the for past two-and-a-half years, I think. And I love doing that."
"[The Blades] do a lot of volunteer work. I went out to the school last Monday. It was a blast. I had a lot of fun. The kids were enjoying it. We played some soccer. It was a good time...Over the summer I worked with the OYHA [Owatonna Youth Hockey Association] and a few other things."
With the international flavor of the team, "It can be hectic in the locker room. Four different languages going off at once. But it's pretty cool to talk to the other guys and learn how life is for them back home."
In the following interview, Bunton talks of learning his role with the Blades, how much he's enjoyed playing in town, and the Hockey Day Minnesota experience last season despite the bitter cold, saying, "It was one of the coolest things I have ever done."
The Blades play Friday, October 14, and Saturday, October 15 hosting Wisconsin Rapids at 7 pm. Steele County hosts Hudson on Friday, October 21, and the Minnesota Moose on Saturday, October 22. Those games are also at 7 pm.