I have been thinking a lot about the differences between European hockey and North American hockey. I know very little about the game itself (and I plan to keep it that way) but I do know that the two styles are very different. In Europe there is no fighting, less hitting, fewer games, more maturity (generally more older players with families), and most noticeable right now, shorter road trips and more stability. Stability probably sounds like a silly word to use to describe European hockey so I'll explain: Hockey is a business and things always change, but when you sign your European contract, you are fairly certain you will be with that team for the entirety of the season. In North America (yes, this is slightly different in the higher leagues), you sign a week to week contract. You might start in one place but by the end of the season, you can easily end up on the other side of the country ... with a few stops in between. If you've been keeping up with this blog, you know that there are various ways in which European hockey isn't stable. Teams fold left and right, players aren't always paid, sometimes you can't get evil Italian women to give you your medical card or permit to stay. The list goes on and on but generally speaking, you know where you'll be from August to April and that is worth something.
For us, European hockey trumps North American hockey for numerous reasons. My husband is more concerned about his body as he gets older; no fighting, less hitting, and fewer games allow him to feel better and play longer. I tend to think more about the length of road trips (or time away from the family) and stability. As talented as I am at packing and moving, I don't actually enjoy doing it. And as much as I love being in the States where I am comfortable and life is easy, nothing compares to having quality time with my family and not having to worry about trades, waivers, and two-week long road trips.
Note: Before I delve into all of this, I want you to know that I am not complaining, nor is my husband. He chose this career and I chose to ride the wave with him. This is just me writing and getting things off my chest, so please don't think that either of us are feeling sorry for ourselves.
When we decided to leave Europe in September it was because we needed to pay bills. If we had our way, we would have stayed to wait for something, somewhere to open up. With a toddler and the desire to really build a life together as a family, we realized we needed to do the responsible thing and move on to get paychecks rolling in. We chose this team because the coach told us that if a European offer came up, he would let us go with no hard feelings. Getting back to Europe was (and is) our priority so we signed the contract.
Unfortunately, this team isn't doing so well. They have been losing and trades seem to happen almost daily. Leaving Germany was hard enough on my husband but coming to a place where his team is struggling and negativity surrounds him has been almost unbearable for both of us.
When things began to unravel in Germany, we had to start coming up with back up plans to Europe. Now that he has had a few weeks to process things, it is hitting him that he is back in the States, back to a lower level of hockey, fighting, road trips from hell, four times as many games in the regular season, a huge decrease in pay, week to week contracts, a constant shuffling of players, and to top it all off, his team is on a losing streak. His reality is that he could be traded tomorrow and from his perspective, it doesn't get a whole lot worse. He is realizing that, by no fault of his own, he may never get back to the DEL. It's not always easy to get to Europe (let alone a team in the DEL). He has even mentioned moving on from hockey, a thought that would never have crossed his mind two months ago.
What my husband lost in Germany was a dream. He was a part of a true team - everyone got on well and they had the drive, the confidence, and the talent to win a championship. He had accomplished one of his biggest goals in signing with a DEL team. He ended preseason feeling proud of himself because he knew he could play at this level and make a difference. Outside of hockey, life was good too. We literally had nothing to complain about. Then BOOM, it was all gone.
I think my husband is feeling alone. And I am sure he feels like his wife doesn't know how to support him because ... she doesn't. There are times when I want to slap him and say, "Get it together, get some points, and get us back to Europe" but I know that tough love doesn't work with him. I have tried pep talks and motivational speeches, I have had positivity spewing out of every orifice for the last two months. That hasn't worked either.
He is struggling and I can't fix any of it.
As a last-ditch effort, I decided to make our home a 'hockey-free' zone. Unless he's been traded or we have a European offer to consider, we will not talk about hockey. Maybe that will help? I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, all I know how to do is love him.
If playing in Europe makes him happy, that is reason enough for me. The other stuff just doesn't seem to matter.