Rachael Peroutky was having a really bad day this past August. That all changed once she received an e-mail at 11 p.m. from her father. It contained application details for the Russian Exchange Program, a 10-day trip for 24 Americans to spend in and around Moscow to experience the country's culture and play hockey.
"I was like, 'Why not?'" said Peroutky, a Farmington native. "This was something I needed."
The program was a product of an agreement between the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Russian Ministry of Sport, Tourism and Youth Policy. Last year, 24 Russians came to Washington, D.C., to learn and experience hockey and culture in the U.S. The 12 Minnesotans and 12 Californians in the American contingent took their trip Oct. 5-14.
The late notice for Peroutky required a quick response. Application materials were due a couple of days later, but for Peroutky this was a no-brainer.
"It was insane," she said. "The whole trip was pretty unexpected to start with."
Peroutky had traveled the U.S. and in Canada with the Minnesota Thoroughbreds, a Triple-A 19-and-under team based in St. Paul. She also went to Greece and Italy with a school group last year.
Those experiences helped her developed a travel bug, and Russia didn't disappoint, from both a life and hockey perspective.
When Peroutky and the crew arrived, Russian hockey royalty greeted them at the U.S. Embassy. Current and former NHL stars Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Sergei Fedorov shook hands, took photos and signed autographs.
Coon Rapids High School girls' varsity head coach Jess Christopherson was one of the two Minnesotan coaches to accompany the team.
"They hinted that we may have a chance to either see or meet Ovechkin, which obviously was everyone's first choice," Christopherson said. "Left and right, the people that they kept putting in front of us, it was pretty unreal. It was unbelievable, the strings they pulled or whatever they had to do."
They also got to work with hockey legends such as Vladislav Tretiak, Russian Hockey Federation president; Igor Tuzik, the federation's vice president, and national goalie coach Vladimir Myshkin.
Getting to meet Tretiak was ultra-special for Peroutky, who has watched the movie "Miracle" several times with her father. Tretiak was the Soviet Union's goaltender who was chased midway through Team USA's monumental upset during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, with the Americans coached by Minnesota native Herb Brooks.
Peroutky's father, sitting at home after recommending this trip to his daughter, felt pangs of jealousy, to say the least.
"When he saw the picture of me with all the legends, he was like, 'I should have been there,' " Peroutky said with a laugh.
Peroutky decided to spend this season -- her senior year -- with her high school team in Farmington. The defenseman no longer wanted to pursue colleges based on hockey but purely on academics instead, which was the main factor in her playing for the Thoroughbreds the past couple of years.
Farmington began practice two weeks ago. It's been fun for Peroutky to get back on the ice with her school friends and teammates. She's played with many of them since her youth hockey days dating to when she was 8 years old.
"We look pretty good," Peroutky said. "It was cool to come back and see the improvements of many of the different girls. We have some strong younger girls coming up as well. I think we're going to be pretty good."
The Tigers' first game is at home on Tuesday against Hastings.