In search of a hockey career, a Friendly City athlete finds his role across the pond
Moose Jaw native Evan Schwabe, wearing the red sweater of Danish club AaB Ishockey, has been testing the professional leagues in Europe for two seasons. Schwabe plans to continue playing in Europe next season, though he says he enjoys returning to Saskatchewan during the off-season. Submitted photographs.
Evan Schwabe is happy to be back in Moose Jaw after playing hockey in Denmark this past season. But he's especially pleased to have timed his return with the arrival of spring.
"I've been told that I'm lucky I missed the winter we had here (in Saskatchewan)," he says. "It never really went below five degrees and we only had one major snowfall and it melted by the next day."
The Friendly City native has been playing in Europe for two years now - first in Finland, most recently for AaB Ishockey in Denmark's top professional league - and he's been having the time of his life.
"Every arena (in our league) is Olympic-sized ice surface except one, so for a guy like myself who relies a lot on skating, it was pretty good," says Schwabe. "There were quite a few North Americans in the league, so you kind of have that mix of North American and European styles."
The 26-year-old got pulled into the European leagues through personal connections and decided to give it a shot.
"I ended up getting over to Finland by luck, I guess. The owner of the team I was with in Finland had played in North America, and his agent had seen me play and got me over there. And that exposure got me to Denmark," he explains. "My agent in Saskatoon has built an alliance with some agents over in Europe and they got me to the Danish league."
Leaving the country with his new bride - three days after their wedding - Schwabe headed for Finland. Being thrown into a foreign culture with an unfamiliar language understandably took some adjusting to, but he made a go of it.
"In Finland, I was the only North American on the team, so it was kind of a culture shock. When they speak to each other they don't speak English, so I kind of sat by myself a lot in the dressing room," he remembers. "I had to sit and listen to (coaching instructions) and then someone would translate for me after. It was kind of a pain in the butt."
The move to Denmark was an improvement from a communication standpoint.
"It wasn't too bad," he says. "All the Danish people speak really good English, and on our team we had eight other Canadian guys. So that made it really nice."
The Danish team, based in the city of Aalborg, fell in the first round of the playoffs to the league's top team.
"We underachieved a little bit. We had a big budget and some guys who were getting paid quite a bit of money," says Schwabe, noting that the coach and general manager were both fired the week prior to the post-season, throwing the team into some turmoil.
But he speaks highly of the team and the experience in Denmark, and is discussing his next career move with his wife.
"I'm in the process of weighing my options right now. I received an offer from that same team, and we liked it there a lot. The city was great. But we want to wait and see what else is out there."
He does see his long term career in the European leagues, though.
"They take good care of you over there, you get a decent paycheque and they take care of your car and apartment . . . so it's nice that way. I think as long as I'm healthy I'll keep playing."
But it's always nice to come home to see family and friends - and it's strange which memories of home one misses while abroad.
"They like their hot dogs in Denmark," he laughs, "but they don't have taco in a bag."