INDIANAPOLIS, In. – Being a minor league hockey fan in the United States is difficult. One day, your favorite player and sometimes the team’s leading scorer is signing autographs for you and your friends, then the next day he’s added to the dreaded “Team Suspension List.”
A player getting suspended usually means one of two things. Either he did something stupid and was suspended, or he’s headed to Europe for a better paycheck. More times than not, it’s the latter than the former.
We’ve all seen our favorite players escape to Europe and wondered why they’d leave so suddenly. Was there something going wrong in the locker room? Did they not agree with the coach? Do they want a better paycheck? Or they just need a change of scenery?
Greg Wolfe is one of those players who left the ECHL for greener pastures. The forward played in 174 ECHL regular-season games over parts of four years with four different teams, plus had several stints in the American Hockey League. In his ECHL stops, Wolfe compiled 139 points (55G, 84A).
When former the former ECHL forward had made it through a few years in North America, Europe started looking pretty good.
“My wife and I had been talking about going to Europe for some time. Before I started playing professionally we thought that giving North American pro hockey three years and see where I was after that,” Wolfe told The Sin Bin.
This season with Sparta Sarpsborg in the Norweigan Ice Hockey League, Wolfe has played in 26 games and has 33 points (16G, 17A).
Over the years, the Indy Fuel have had several very good players pack their bags and take their talents to Europe. For instance, former Fuel forward Alex Lavoie left Indy to play for BIK Karlskoga in the Swedish Second Division and had 52 points in 51 games. Both Josh Shalla and Brady Ramsay left Indy for the EIHL; Shalla joining the Nottingham Panthers and Ramsay the Sheffield Steelers.
The EIHL is a common league for ECHL and former AHL players to resort to. The majority of the time, players just want to play. It becomes an issue of ice time.
“We talked to many players and our teammates that have played overseas and almost every single one of them recommended it to us,” said Wolfe.
Sometimes the AHL veteran isn’t looking for the NHL call-up anymore but instead just wants to play consistent minutes.
Moving overseas provides a player with a comfortable lifestyle as well as a game that they are comfortable playing in. Sometimes the European style of play is a little easier on the body. With wider ice comes a lighter style of play.
“Most teams in my league (Get-ligaen, Norway) play on Olympic ice which is a larger ice surface.” Wolfe told The Sin Bin, “It’s more wide open and a little less physical than North American hockey. It enables players to have more time and space and allows for players to have more time with the puck to make plays.”
European hockey follows IIHF rules regarding international breaks. Each team shuts down for international competition. “[International breaks] allows us to travel a bit and see some of Europe,” said Wolfe, “It‘s much easier on the body having breaks and I haven’t felt as worn down.”
While players end up enjoying their time traveling and playing games throughout Europe, most players cherish their time in North America.
“Both teams I played for had a really good fan base and made it very enjoyable playing for their teams,” Wolfe mentioned, “Over here we have a section of fans that stand and sing/chant almost the entire game which brings lots of energy to the building. Which is a little different than back home. Back home it’s mostly cheering for big hits and goals.”
Many players take the European route after playing a few years in North America. Sometimes it’s going to be your favorite player, other times, it will be the best player on the rival team. Regardless, don’t hold it against them for moving on. A more relaxed lifestyle and a less physical style of play is something many players look forward to.