Monday, 10 December 2012

We have hockey here

and you don't. Say thanks to Bettman

NHL got cancelled until 30th of December. Is it the last milestone until cancellation of the whole season? Could be, previous were October games, then Winter Classic, then All Star game, and is this the last step before NHLPA and NHL refuse to kiss and make up?

Please do, or we're going to have many more players come overseas and face the cultural shock when they do come. 

There and back again

There are few traditional migrations of players between Europe and North America. One happens with young talent that goes from Europe to try in various junior leagues all over NA and in case of older boys to collegiate hockey, where mostly they stick to studying and play some hockey until their talent gets recognized or more often, until they finish school and return home. 

The other "natural" migration is of talented hockey players moving to top European leagues in search of their dream, and seasoned vets and players to less prominent leagues and clubs looking for jobs. "Kids" often find it strange when they come over from big hockey towns with newer facilities, different ownership status and different lifestyle to a more traditional, sedentary way of life.

Most of these countries have lots of "history" as they put it, and lots of, behind the scenes work, issues players just don't understand at first glance. From mostly English (or French) speaking countries, players venture to Swedish, Finnish, German, Czech, Slovakian, in some cases Italian and in best of those to English (UK) and French speaking countries. Lots of languages, players from all over world and from dozens of different cultural styles often meet. And then you start talking about hockey. If they're lucky they land in a place where there are a few NA players already or at least a coach to help them sort it out. 

Crimmitschau ice hall - open to the side and woods on the right
Now, imagine to land in a small city (eg. Crimmitschau - signed Simmonds, Stewart and MacArthur), some 250 km south of Berlin on border with Czech republic. Folks are mostly German with some Czech mixed in between, players are almost all German, with few imports from East. And you're a Canadian guy that doesn't speak German. Your coach knows some words but that's it. And in between facility is 3 parts closed and one part open towards the woods. And You haven't played outdoors since you were a kid. 

Its kind of hard to get there and into the game isn't it? Now instead of German town put in a Czech city, a Hungarian metalworking town, or any other place. If you're lucky you end up in bigger cities or, in places where many people know your language. Otherwise you adapt, start learning the local language or in some, you just don't bother.
Wayne Simmonds in Europe during NHL lockout
Now imagine that with all those cultural and language barriers you head into a bunch of provocative and drunk fans that start throwing racial slurs. Wayne Simmonds is a hell of a player and he felt that. Lots of ink has been spilled over chants calling him a monkey in Czech republic so I wont cover it all again. It was just a really ugly game, that shed some really bad light on European hockey and its great and loud fans. Hope it won't happen ever again. Good luck back home practicing with great guys at "Beyond the next level" facility in Toronto by @DeejBTNL 

Players that head into bigger cities like Vienna, Berlin, great organisations like Red Bull Salzburg (just added Boychuck, Dorsett, Mike Duco etc.), Milano get it easy as they can feel the spirit of Europe just by poking their heads out. 

Dustin Jeffrey (Medvescak Zagreb) - photo by Igor Šoban
Dustin Jeffrey (Pittsburgh Penguins) went to Venice on his first day off, then went to Budapest. All in a driving distance from Zagreb, Croatia, where he currently plays and makes fans love him with his every move  day in and out. He will get to visit one of the great cities of the world, Dubrovnik, and many more just by having an NHL lockout. 

Many others, including guys in Swiss, Germany and other countries like Briere, Giroux, Tavares, Ty Seguin and many more have great time playing abroad. Of course they mostly play for pocket money and insurance, but they do what they love. They play hockey. They give their best each day, each practice and aren't spared on the ice. 

Sam Gagner happily chewing on a mouthpiece. He's the one
 in white red jersey. #97 in case you missed it. (P: Igor Šoban)
EBEL league has its stars too. Sam Gagner just can't believe how beautiful the Austria (and 4 other countries he plays in while on the roster for EC KAC).  

Beautiful Austria“: On the way to Innsbruck earlier today  

And then he proceeded to demolish Innsbruck with a few goals justl like his teammates Alex Cogilano and Tyler Myers (currently on IR list with a knee injury but expected to be on roster by weekend). Or was it an ankle injury? I'm sure someone cares about it, but its not me. 

Free summer with additional free fall?

And it looks like the NHL season is in indeed a free fall. Another batch of games up to Dec. 30th have been cancelled. Xmas is right on the corner and owners (and players according to HRR) are going to lose bunch of money by not selling games and merch during the games. All that TV coverage, and overall hockey related revenue is basically as good as gone. 

Season 2004. - 2005. is likely going to be repeated, and no one is going to profit from that. Well mostly no one, Europe will love it. Some guys will come over, enjoy the opportunity, possibly for the first time ever in their schedule driven life to enjoy hockey and play abroad. From midget, to AAA to collegiate/pro hockey most of them never had a "free" summer followed by a free fall/winter. Without having to worry about getting through the camps, being sent up/down or traded on a whim of the owners and coaches, players have a chance to do what they're best. Enjoy hockey without a capitalistic driven North American society. 

Enjoy it while you can, soon you'll be flying franchise jets, living a fake dream and enjoying bloated contracts that block negotiations more firmly than any other points Bettman and Fehr are trying to battle around. 

Embrace the LOCKOUT, see the World, play hockey. 


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  3. Austria has such lovely scenery