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Garret and Bret Kingsbury of Bakersfield are in Russia this week as a part of a youth athlete cultural exchange

Bakersfield Dragons goalie Garret Kingsbury is stopping pucks in Russia this week. Kingsbury is in Moscow as part of a team of 24 American youth hockey players who were selected to represent the U.S. in a cultural exchange.

Kingsbury, a freshman at Bakersfield Christian High School, has played for the Dragons for four years. He says he applied for this program in hopes of achieving one of his hockey goals.

"It's not only great for hockey, but also to see a different culture," Kingsbury said of the trip. "Playing hockey in a different country has always been a dream of mine."

Kingsbury and his American teammates will meet their Russian peers on and off the ice. In addition to learning Russian-style hockey, the players will tour embassies, visit historical landmarks, and take part in leadership programs.

Kingsbury's father, Bret Kingsbury, is making the trip as a coach. He says programs like this can bridge gaps between cultures.

"The great thing about sports is we all play for the same common goal," the elder Kingsbury said. "Regardless of our history, culture, or background, it's an equalizer."

The youth sports exchange program is part of SportsUnited, a division of the U.S. Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Last year, 24 Russian youth hockey players visited the U.S. in a similar exchange. Since 2003, SportsUnited has brought thousands of athletes from more than 60 countries to the U.S. and sent more than 200 American athletes to visit various countries around the world.

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Shelly Fair