On Sunday, March 5, the faces of the boys on Cardigan Mountain School’s Varsity Hockey Team expressed uncertainty and hesitance, standing together in the lobby of Hyvinkää’s hockey rink. Just over a week later, those same face, in that same room, bore the markings of bittersweet goodbyes, with the looming departure from what had become their home for the last eight days.
After a remarkable four months competing side by side, the Cardigan team punctuated their successful season with a special tradition that had been put on hold since 2019. Like dozens of Cardigan teams before them, they traveled to Hyvinkää, Finland, to play hockey and experience a different culture–one that at times feels worlds apart, while at others feels more familiar than different.
Since the mid-1970s, Cardigan teams have traveled to Finland to play hockey, meet new people, experience new cultures, and expand their horizons. While there is something exceptional about being able to travel to another place to play the game the boys love, what is most special about the tradition lies within the city of Hyvinkää – specifically, the people, and the warmth with which they have welcomed Cardigan teams and boys for half of a century.
Those uncertain expressions on the faces of the Cardigan boys preceded their departures from the rink to the homes of their host families, residents of the city who volunteered to care for and welcome into their homes these adolescent strangers from 4,000 miles away. That uncertainty was not mirrored by the host families, who waited both patiently and eagerly to meet the boys who would become members of their families.
Two-by-two, Cardigan boys stepped forward to meet their families for the week. Warm greetings and Nordic smiles welcomed the guests from The Point, as they departed both the rink and their comfort zones, fully immersing themselves in the magic of the experience.
The eight-day stay was full of sightseeing, travel, saunas, new friends, and yes, hockey. And while hockey was the genesis of the long-standing relationship between Cardigan and the city of Hyvinkää, what has grown from a canceled hockey tournament and rearranged travel plans in December 1975, goes way beyond the game.
Nearly every two years since, boys from Cardigan have traveled to the city to meet those who have become Cardigan’s extended family. And, in exchange, boys from Finland have journeyed to The Point to attend Cardigan for a year or more. These Finnish Cougars–most of whom now reside in the Hyvinkää and greater-Helsinki area–have brandished themselves “The Old Boys.”
The last game of the 2023 trip to Finland was the same as it has been for years, a game between the Cardigan varsity players and the Cardigan alumni from Finland; it’s also known as “The Old Boys Game.”
It might appear ordinary to someone without knowledge of the ties that bind the players on the ice. To those who understand what the game represents, however, the game is a symbol: a symbol of brotherhood; of shared experience; of love for the game, each other, and Cardigan Mountain School. Attended by Cougars whose graduation years from Cardigan span six different decades, it serves as another example that even halfway across the world the values and traditions of Cardigan have an effect that goes far beyond the confines of campus, the country, or the time period in which they are learned.
On paper, the trip to Finland was a success. The varsity boys finished with a record of 5-1-1, and, as has become a bit of a tradition, the Old Boys won the long-awaited game against the current CMS squad…can’t teach experience.
On a deeper level, the success of the trip was illustrated every time a Cardigan boy shook the hand of an alumnus; in every commute by an Old Boy to a nearby city to watch their former school take on a team of their countrymen; in every weathered Cardigan letterman jacket from decades long past (some fitting better than others); in every time Cardigan’s boys offered thanks–or “kiitos”–to the families that so generously welcomed them into their homes; and in every newly-formed friendship that will last far longer than the trip ever will.
The city of Hyvinkää, and the people who so warmly welcome their neighbors from the west year after year, have made a tradition and a custom out of helping “the other fella.” The Cardigan boys–both new and Old–carry with them the values of the School and the hockey program, and will do so for years to come.
** All photos courtesy of Ryan Frost
** Story written by Cam McCusker