While the NHL Lockout is whittling away any shot of a season in North America this year, hockey is up and running across the pond in Europe. Europe is home to several leagues, many of which possess American and Canadian players on their rosters.
It has long been a staging ground for young players hoping to impress NHL scouts, talent who just can’t catch a break on the road to the big leagues, and older pros who aren’t ready to hang up the skates.
One such player is native New Yorker Bobby Goepfert who was a sixth round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2002 Entry Draft. The well-traveled net minder had spent time playing for various US farm teams before heading overseas. Currently, Goepfert is the keeper for the DEG Metro Stars of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Goepfert is a “typical New York story” of grit and ingenuity, learning the early mechanics of the game on the blacktop at the schoolyard across the street from his home in Queens with borrowed goalie equipment and tin cans.
He also knows a bit about tough luck, getting injured on the second day of his first NHL training camp with the Anaheim Ducks who signed him as a free agent after Pittsburgh lost interest. The injury would relegate him to a goalie clogged farm system, a situation which would be repeated in the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres organizations.
It’s what led him to Europe where he is grateful “for the opportunity to make a living” playing the game he loves. The European experience has had its “ups and downs, but he’s enjoying the world travel and the competition.
Soccer is still the sport of choice overseas, but hockey has a strong, enthusiastic fan base. The people are passionate about the game and proud of the teams that represent their cities. He admits with a chuckle that the tradition of beating drums during play took a little bit of getting used to.
The Metro Stars organization “takes good care of its players” as well. Goepfert and his new bride have a cozy townhouse and vehicle which were both provided by the team. A retired linguistic professor who is a fan as well helps imports (non-German players) learn the language and adjust to a new culture.
He describes the play as being on par with the American Hockey League with many seasoned players with NHL experience making up the rosters. The schedule is not as demanding or as lengthy either. The team plays every Friday and Sunday with an occasional Tuesday match and the playoffs usually begin at the end of February. There are also international breaks during the season which allows for some personal travel.
As for the lockout back home, Bobby Goepfert’s opinion is pretty straightforward. “They’re killing the game.” He also welcomes the addition of his NHL counterparts to the European leagues, understanding their need “to play and stay sharp.”
And what does the longtime Islander fan feel about the teams move to Brooklyn in 2015? “It tears me up a little. The Coliseum had character and a lot of memories. My Dad took me to my first game there. I’ll never have the opportunity to share those memories with my kids. It’s like a part of your life that’s gone.”
Bobby is enjoying his experience over in Germany, though the Metro Stars have struggled a bit this season, and he admits to being taken aback when he is recognized off the ice. He has a large following of fans on Twitter too. You can check him out on Twitter @Geffman47.