Europe is a great place to play hockey. You play fewer games, the travel is shorter, and the quality of hockey remains high, but packing up your life in a hockey bag and a couple of suitcases can seem like a big leap of faith.
From my experience with proper research and signing with a quality team, it will be an adventure you’ll be thankful you went on. Here are a few things to know when you are looking to sign a contract or a few things to understand once you know what country you’ll be playing and living in.
Do Your Research
If you plan on heading overseas, do your homework on what league would be a viable option.
Elite Prospects is your friend. Look up former teammates or players that have a similar hockey path as you. You should take into account the number of AHL or ECHL games as European teams like players with professional hockey games played on their resumes. Based on your honest comparison, you should be able to narrow down the leagues you might be ready to start your European hockey career in.
Another factor to consider when signing in Europe is who will be your coaches and what nationality they are. Meetings, video sessions, and practices may be all done in a language that is not English, depending on the coach’s nationality.
Find an Agent
If you’re coming from the AHL, ECHL, or playing Junior hockey, you most likely already have an agent representing you. If you’re coming out of U Sports, you most likely are looking for someone to represent you.
My advice would be to find an agent who has connections in multiple countries in Europe. You will most likely have agents contacting you on Facebook looking to represent you as well. Do your homework before jumping into an agreement with an agent.
Each league in Europe offers a different pay scale to their import players. European teams tend to prefer players who have a “beefed up” resume. Teams like to see AHL and ECHL production and games played. U Sports players might need to take a smaller salary their first year, but as you prove you can produce, your salary can rise as you move up leagues. If you want to check out all league’s salary expectations, check out 2112 Hockey.
Understand that this could be a unique year salary-wise for import players. Sponsors fund the majority of the teams in Europe. Due to the global pandemic, teams operating budget might be diminished, leaving less money to sign players.
Understand League Import Rules
Each league has its own rule on how many import players are allowed per team. Understand the pressure put on import players can depend on the number of import players allowed in the league. The lower number of import players per team means higher expectations to perform to a high standard.
For example, in Denmark, they allow eight import players. In the DEL2, they allow four import players. Your agent will know the import rules for each league.
Check Family History
Ask your parents or grandparents about your family ancestry. Getting a European passport can be complicated, but if you can get one, it could be your ticket to a long career in that specific country as you would not be considered an import player.
If you plan on playing in Europe in the future and have European ancestry, get your agent to look as soon as possible to understand the guidelines for obtaining the European passport. I’ve heard stories where it could take months and years due to complications.
Each country and club is different when it comes to contract negotiations. From experience, most contracts include flights, baggage fees, vehicle, apartment, and utilities.
If you are flying with your wife/girlfriend and children, make sure their flights and baggage fees are covered within your contract. Some clubs might pay for your cell phone plan or provide a gas card for you as well.
Another thing to consider is some teams will cover your agent fee. Make sure to look into this as this could save you some money.
If you are married and your wife is traveling with you, there should be no complications. Just have a copy of your marriage certificate, and things should be smooth sailing.
If you are going overseas with your girlfriend, things can be a little more complicated depending on the country you are playing in. It can be easier if you are considered common-law, but each country has different requirements for couples to be considered common-law.
In the Schengen region, the rule is 90 days allowed in the country, followed by 90 days out of the country. Make sure you do your research so you’re not blindsided when you find out your girlfriend must travel home midway through the season.
Research the Country
Make sure to understand the language and cultural differences in your new country. Some countries will be more English speaking than others. English might be more common in the larger cities, but you might experience a language barrier in particular smaller cities/towns depending on the country.
In particular, when touring and dining out, understand the cultural differences that you might experience. For example, research if tipping is required, assume you have to pay for water at restaurants, distinguish between still or sparkling water, or if you have to pay to use the toilets in public.
Things are different in Europe. It’s a different lifestyle and a different culture. Be open-minded to how they run things. Of course, there will be times where you think to yourself “what the heck is going on”.
But having the ability to live in a new country, take in a new culture, experience the history and architecture and being able to travel easily country to country makes Europe a destination hockey players should want to play.
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