A group of close to 40 children from Sweden are getting a taste of American culture by staying with host families in Hoffman Estates and participating in a new hockey tournament this weekend.
The Hoffman Estates Park District is hosting the Krolak Cup through Sunday. Two Swedish teams of 13- and 14-year-olds were getting a special welcome during the tournament's opening ceremony Thursday night at the Triphahn Community Center and Ice Arena.
The Krolak Cup is named in honor of Bob Krolak, who worked on doing cultural exchanges in sports and other youth groups for more than 30 years. He was president of the Illinois Amateur Hockey Association, an inaugural member of the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame and co-founder of the Spirit of Chicago Foundation, which sponsored foreign exchange programs for children. Krolak, of Orland Park, died last April after a battle with Parkinson's disease.
His friend and Hoffman Estates Park District employee Mark Brunner first participated in one of those exchanges about 14 years ago, when he took a hockey team he coached to Sweden, which he said is known for having "some of the best hockey in the world."
"I realized on that trip what an unbelievable experience it was for all the players," he said, noting the camaraderie and friendships that developed during the visit. "That kind of trumped the competitive nature of the tournament."
Upon returning, Brunner founded the Krolak Cup on the North Shore. This year, he decided it was time to expand the tournament, as it was Krolak's dream to do so, and he knew Hoffman Estates would be a perfect location.
"With the facility that we have here and the amount of housing and hotels and shops and all that, and easy to get to downtown (Chicago) … it seemed like a really, really good fit," he said.
The Swedish hockey players arrived last Friday and are staying with kids their age who are part of the Hoffman Estates Wolf Pack teams. They were accompanied by dozens of parents and siblings, who are staying in local hotels.
Brunner said besides getting a chance to practice their English, try American foods and experience Illinois weather, the Swedes will have the opportunity to go to school with children in their host families, visit local attractions, like Woodfield Mall, and go to a Blackhawks and Chicago Wolves game.
Teams -- which also includes the Rolling Meadows Chargers, the Joliet Jaguars and the West Dundee Leafs -- will play one game each on Thursday and Friday and then two games each on Saturday. Semifinals and finals will be held on Sunday, followed by a farewell banquet.
Brunner is hopeful that the kids will enjoy the experience and want to host the Swedes again -- and perhaps even go visit them one day.
"We want to carry these (tournaments) on to honor (Krolak) and continue to develop these friendships," he said. "They ultimately are lifelong friendships."