Former Gophers Enjoying Pro Hockey Experience Overseas
At leas a dozen former University of Minnesota hockey alumni will spent last winter playing overseas, and at least as many will head back to foreign rinks this season.
It's become a common option for players who want a change of pace from North American minor league hockey.
On the ice, life is pretty much the same. However, it's the little things away from the rink that remind the players they're thousands of miles from home.
Former Gopher Ben Gordon played for the DEG Metro Stars in Dusseldorf, Germany last winter.
"Everything was little over there," Gordon remarked. "Your oven is that big," he said, making a tiny gesture with his hands. "The microwave is also that big, but its just - that's how it is, there's an adjustment period there."
Former Gopher captain Gino Guyer cites the refreshing change of pace as his favorite thing about his two seasons skating with Lillehammer IK in Lillehammer, Norway.
"Our stress level in Norway, the need to be here, be there... it's night and day," Guyer says. "People over there enjoy life, they take their time with things. They place a high value on lifestyle and enjoying it, not always trying to get as far as you can as quick as you can. It's really refreshing."
No Minnesota alumnus travels farther than Chris Harrington, who helped the Oji Eagles win the Japanese Pro League title last season.
In the ten years Since Nick Angell graduated from the "U", he's played in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany and Russia - on a total of eleven different teams.
Former fan favorite Jacob Cepis took his talents to Tappara, Finland for his first pro season last year.
While in Dusseldorf, Gordon skated with fellow Gopher Evan Kauffman. Guyer had R.J. Anderson, Kevin Wehrs and Justin Bostrom on his team.
All are part of a growing list of alumni playing in international elite leagues.
When they leave campus, only a few of the players speak the language of their new home nation, but Gordon and Guyer - who captained his Norwegian team - say it isn't a problem.
"I still don't know (German)," Gordon laughs. "We had quite a few North Americans on our team, so I wasn't forced to learn. I can read a menu and say 'hi' and 'bye' but that's about it.""
"I learned a few words and phrases in Norweigian," Guyer says. "But most of the people there spoke English, so I never felt the need to learn. I kind of did to humor some of the guys on the team. I learned some phrases, but nothing that could carry a conversation."
Foreign teams typically provide players with an apartment, use of a car, and a salary that - for the most part - exceeds what they could make in American minor leagues.
Most players will endure the grind of American leagues like the AHL or ECHL if they feel they have a true chance to advance to the National Hockey League. But once that window closes, Europe becomes a very attractive option.
"It's extremely good hockey," Gordon says. "I didn't know what I was getting myself into at first, but it's fairly close to North American style. Guys are older, maybe the game is a little but smarter. Where the AHL might be a little more physical and guys are trying to make that next jump - our league may be a little slower, but it's more skilled. It's really good hockey, it was a lot of fun."
Guyer notes the lifestyle in European hockey is also more conducive to starting a family.
"In the ECHL, we were on the road sometimes two weeks at a time," he says. "I just got married and wanted to start a family, so Europe provides the best (situation). It's about 20 games less - you're not on the road - I get to be home a lot more."
There's also the draw of collecting stamps on one's passport.
"I get a chance to live and see a part of the world you're probably never gonna get to go to," Gordon says. "My wife and I went to a lot of cool cities - Berlin, Munich, Cologne, Amsterdam."
Guyer also cites the ease of travel around Europe as a blessing of his foreign employment.
"My wife and I have been to Amsterdam, Oslo..." Guyer says, rattling off his past itineraries. "Paris and Prague are two of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen in my entire life. Just walking around the streets, makes you feel like you're in a different time and different place. Maybe it's cliche, but you feel free and different and it's a great experience to take in."
Guyer admits his lifelong dream was to play in the NHL. Despite coming up short of realizing that dream, he's thrilled he's been able to forge others.
"I never got to the NHL, but have been able to do a lot of neat things through hockey," Guyer says. "I've been able to see amazing places, travel a little bit and play the game I love... and make money at it... so all in all, I think it's pretty neat thing."
After his two seasons in Norway, Guyer is set to skate for Alleghe of the Italian League this winter. Gordon's plans are still undecided for 2012-13.