By: Denny Kearney
In my 8 years of pro hockey I have played in 9 different leagues in 7 countries for 11 different teams. All of this change of scenery is partly by design as me and my wife love experiencing different places and cultures. Some situations we had less of a say in but we consider ourselves very lucky. I get to play the game I love and she is able to work online remotely using her doctorate in health education while living abroad.
To give a quick overview these past 8 years, after I graduated from Yale University I have played in 3 minor leagues in the US and then moved over to Europe. Overseas I first played in the 2nd German league, then moved to the top league in France, then Norway, then the second Swedish league. After that I played for the Italian team in the top Austrian league then 2 different teams in the UK, one while getting a masters degree in business administration (which the team pays for) and now finally I am back playing for one of the top organizations in France.
Everyone always asks me where was you favorite place to play? My response is always that every place had its perks and a few downsides:
The mountain town of Briançon in France was beautiful and sunny but the town was small and isolated.
The city outside Oslo, Norway was super nice and everyone spoke English well…but Norway is sneakily the most expensive country in the world. We’re talking $40+ for pizza and a beer at a basic restaurant.
In Northern Italy we lived in a beautiful area up on a hill overlooking vineyards and mountains but the team was run poorly and that turned into a very negative atmosphere around the team.
The UK is nice as everyone speaks English so day to day life is easier and the locker room is more like back home where everyone knows what’s going on as there is no language barrier.
That leaves us back where I am now in Grenoble, France which I can now say is my favorite place I have ever played. Me and my wife quickly figured out it checks all the boxes. The team is good and the organization cares about and looks after every player and their families. The city is surrounded by beautiful mountains but is still close to lots of things including two major airports in Geneva and Lyon. We’ve quickly realized that this is the type of place we’ve been looking for all along.
Of all the places I’ve played each has had a few interesting little nuances that I’ve had to learn and adapt to…
In Germany an accidental high stick that drew blood got me kicked straight out of the game. Additionally in my first ever game in Europe I played in a packed open air rink that was freezing cold where an angry home fan threw a raw chicken carcass on the ice after what he thought was a bad call. Hadn’t ever seen that before or since.
In France I was introduced to hour long three course meals at a restaurant after road games even with a 10 hour bus trip staring us in the face. I learned to just embrace the culture and maybe treat yourself to a little creme brûlée at 11:30pm after the primetime 8-8:30pm standard puck drop around the league.
In Norway and Sweden I was ridiculed several times for eating burgers or other finger foods with my hands. Me and my teammates had to agree to disagree as I wasn’t about to eat a burger with a fork and knife but I made sure to compromise and tried putting ketchup on my pasta like many of my Swedish teammates loved to do.
In Northern Italy I learned that there was a bit of a divide between the Italians who were German speaking as a first language and the other Italians. Before I arrived I didn’t even know that there was that much German influence in Italy but I quickly was made aware of it when local players on my team who played for the Italian National team told me they consider themselves South Tyrolean (the region we lived) more than Italian.
In the UK I tried to learn as much British slang as I could so that I could understand what some of the young local guys on my team were talking about. Between a thick accent and a hip vocabulary, the young Brits on the team might as well have been speaking a different language at times but trying to keep up helped keep me feeling young.
Landing back in France this year brought back one of my favorite cultural locker room customs. In France when you walk in the room each morning you are expected to say “Hi” and shake the hand of everybody there. At first I had found it annoying but have grown to enjoy it as it’s a great way to not only spread germs but more importantly be social, interact with, and get to know all your teammates every single day.
To this day the things that I remember most about each country I’ve played in aren’t the games or the places but always the people. Each team has had different awesome teammates who I am lucky enough to now call lifelong friends. Meeting people from all over the globe and hearing their perspective but most importantly sharing a lot of laughs is what I want to remember most about my years in Europe.
I’m will never get rich from hockey but I sure do feel lucky for where the game has taken me and the people it has allowed me to meet…all while creating memories and experiences that there is no chance I would get without hockey.