By VICKY GRYGAR
In the O Blogger

In Canada, hockey has grown to become part of everyday culture. The CHL along with our beloved 6 NHL franchises have united Canadians and fans across the country. As hockey enthusiasts these are the teams we follow and cheer for. It is evident that at times, many of us forget hockey has grown in popularity at each corner of the globe. Of course we all know of the remaining NHL teams located in the U.S. along with the AHL, ECHL, CHL, NCAA, USHL, etc, but many writers, reporters and fans don’t often look beyond these leagues.

Europe is a haven for up and coming hockey players. The most prominent league, as many know, is also one of the NHL’s fiercest competitors, the Russian KHL. The issues between the NHL and KHL are ever surfacing as each looks to gain control over the market. It is also now common nature for NHL players to transfer to the KHL in hopes of financially receiving what they believe they are truly worth. Moving beyond the KHL we run into the elite leagues of Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic.

Fans flying the Canadian Flag for McGregor in the stands.
These rosters are usually dominated by European players, so it was an interesting story to learn that Bryan McGregor, a Niagara Falls, Ontario native, earned a spot on the Czech Extraliga’s HC Ocelari Trinec roster. This marks the first time in the team’s franchise history that a Canadian born player has had the opportunity to play for the Ocelari. McGregor, 26, left home at the age of 15 to pursue his hockey career in the BCHL with the Vernon Vipers. From there he committed to the NCAA route and played at the University of Minnesota-Duluth to simultaneously grow as a hockey player and student. Upon graduation McGregor found himself playing for 3 different ECHL teams and prior to heading to Europe, the forward tallied a few games with the Binghamton Senators of the AHL. The decision for a North American hockey player to embark on a career in Europe is not a light decision. Many, if given the opportunity would find the choice debatable and be edgy to pack up and leave everything they’ve known behind. McGregor however has embraced his chance and is now a popular entity in the city of Trinec. I had the opportunity to ask Bryan a few questions about his diverse hockey career.


1. Going back to Junior Hockey, what made you decide on the NCAA route versus CHL?

BM: It was a very difficult decision. At 15 years old, you have to decide your future in not only hockey but in life as well. I have a very high interest in academics and also did very well in high school. I felt I would not be ready for the NHL at 18-20, so I therefore decided to move to British Columbia to pursue the NCAA route. I always wonder what my life would of been like had I went the OHL route, but that’s life.

2. You've now had the chance to play in both Finland and the Czech Republic. How has the adjustment been for you in terms of culture?

BM: There are a lot of differences. I found that Finland is a lot more tolerant to English culture and more people speak English. The city I was in, in Finland was half Swedish and half Finnish. Swedish people speak English as we do, with almost no accent. I found that very fascinating. But if you want to get technical, both Swedish and English stem from the same language base (Germanic). The food is very different, in Finland the food was very different, a lot of fish and fish related dishes. Czech is more what I am used to with a lot of meat and potatoes. The countries in general are very different. Finland is a very clean and simple country. I find Czech is very old, lots of history. Both are unique and very nice in their own ways. I enjoy the differences, and like living in both countries.

3. How is communication with coaches/teammates working?

BM: Communication is easy on our team, as everyone speaks English except the coaches. So that is the only downside to the language barrier. I adapt well to languages, no matter where I am. I speak decent Finnish and Swedish, and every day I learn more Czech. I know all the basics, colours, numbers, foods, basic conversation, and am slowly getting better and better. I am able to adapt no matter where I am to language problems, as it is just something I have become accustomed to.

4. Being among one of the first Canadians to ever play for HC Ocelari Trinec, how have the fans treated you so far?

BM: I am actually the first Canadian to play for Ocelari, which is a very cool thing. The fans have been awesome to me, they fly the Canadian flag in the stands for me. Hopefully I play better, and more of that catches on. But everyone has been really good to me. There was a young boy who wanted my jersey, (he was the younger brother of a friend of mine), and so I bought him my jersey and gave it to him. I think it is good to give as much back to the fans as they give to you, and in Trinec we have really great fans.

5. Can you describe the technical difference between European and North American hockey?

BM: Well there are a lot of differences, but the biggest difference has to be speed. The European style of hockey is more technical, more skill, more speed. The NHL is as well, but with a lot more body contact in North America vs Europe. The size of the ice rinks has to do with that. In the NHL they play on a lot smaller surface. I like both styles mind you, but every country in Europe plays a different style, Finland vs Sweden vs Russia, etc.