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Doug Wolter: Arrivederci, America: Sam Fellows to play hockey in Italy

DOUG WOLTER/DAILY GLOBE Hockey enthusiast Sam Fellows (pictured with his Team U.S.A. jersey) will soon be paying hockey in Europe. The 13-year-old goalie is set to travel to Italy and Switzerland as part of an elite team.

Sam Fellows tried 4-H, dance, soccer and baseball. His mother, Bethani, wanted him to try basketball.

So he did all those things. Most of them were OK, but not so great.

He also tried hockey.

“My mom thought I’d be in it one or two years, and then quit,” Sam said.

Not so. Today, Sam Fellows, 13, is all in when it comes to hockey. Jon Standafer, who coached him for two years on the local Pee-Wee team, says the young man “consumes” the sport. Sam doesn’t disagree.

“I just love just getting to go out and play. Just the feel of being able to get on the ice,” said the freckle-faced goalie.

Sam is more than a motivated player; he’s also a very good one. On Friday, in fact, he will be traveling with his family from the Twin Cities to Europe, landing in Milan, Italy, at about 7 a.m. Italy time on Saturday morning, to begin a hockey odyssey with a Eurosport team stocked with players from several countries.

Sam’s involvement with Eurosport emanated from a tryout in Blaine with the Bauer Vapor. One of the people looking on was a coach by the name of Tim Hawkinson who invited him to be a member of the European traveling squad.

“They were very impressed with his goalie skills, and his ability to stay focused on the game,” said Sam’s father, Richard.

Richard, his mother Bethani, and Sam’s 7-year-old sister, Alli, will make the trip with Sam for four days in Italy and four days in Switzerland, at least four hockey games, and — of course — tours. The Fellows’ oldest son, Caleb, who recently returned to the states from Air Force duty, will be holding down the fort while the rest are away.

Before Sam began playing hockey at age 4 or 5, there was nothing in the family history to suggest that he would even want to take up the sport. Bethani grew up as a basketball player out of Nashua, Iowa, and Richard — a Worthington High School grad — was into wrestling. Nobody will ever accuse Sam of having his dad’s hockey genes.

“I can’t stand on skates,” Richard testifies. “All I learned (about hockey) has been through watching Sam at his games and his practices. Neither my wife or I have paid attention to hockey until Sam was playing.”

Sam says he first became interested in hockey from friends, and after he attempted it he decided it was “the coolest thing ever.” Today, he says he doesn’t like very many sports with round balls (golf is an exception).

Standafer describes him as something of a rink rat. “He’s got that drive. He’s just really got that desire to play hockey,” he said. “He’s one of those kids who, if he didn’t have natural ability, would still be a good hockey player.”

This is Sam’s fourth year as a permanent goalie. He started to really like goaltending during his second year of squirts and has attended several camps.

“I just feel like when I fall into a butterfly, it just feels really good to me,” said Sam Monday morning.

“Sam has always just had a natural instinct on the ice, where the puck will be and how to read the game,” said his dad. “Usually the worst day he has, he’s ready to go out on the ice the next day.”

So it’s probably no surprise, then, that when Sam is asked how far he wants to take the sport, he speaks of playing it in college, or maybe even the pros.

“I think it really depends on how far I push myself,” he explains. “I’m just going to keep working as hard as I can to get there.”

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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