It may sound like an old cliché, but hockey really is Canada’s game. While hockey is played in all corners of the world, nowhere else is the sport such an integral part of a nation’s culture. The fact that many Canadian players are willing to leave Canada just for a chance to play professionally is a demonstration of just how much hockey means to Canadians.
Canadians can be found plying their trade in nearly every professional ice hockey league in the world. They play for teams such as the Newcastle North Stars of the Australian Ice Hockey League and Japan’s Tohoku Free Blades.
The Eredivisie is no different — nearly all of the seven teams that compete in the Netherland’s only professional ice hockey league have Canadians in their squad.
The defending champion Hys The Hague have three Canadians on their roster, including former National Hockey League player Alex Henry, who played 177 NHL games for four teams, including the Edmonton Oilers and Montreal Canadiens. Dave Hyrsky, a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, coaches the team. Forward Raphael Joly was born in Amsterdam but lived most of his life in Quebec and forward Mark Soares hails from Vancouver.
Soares — unsurprisingly known as Sorsie to his teammates — saw coming to Europe as an opportunity to keep playing the game.
“My ultimate goal was to support myself through hockey and I was able to do that here,” said Soares.
Joly had a different reason for coming to the Dutch league. His main motivation was to earn a spot on the Dutch national team. To be eligible he had to play in the Netherlands.
“I started here two years ago,” said Joly. “I got my Dutch passport and the Dutch team wanted me to come here and play for them.”
The pair of Canadians noticed some major differences when they first made the transition from North America to Europe.
“Bigger ice, less physical — it’s definitely more open hockey,” said Joly. “I like it like this. There’s more room on the ice.”
“From the physical aspect of it it’s totally different,” added Soares. “You don’t see the big hits you do in North America. You see a lot more skilled guys. I think that’s the biggest thing.”
Both players mentioned that they enjoyed the European style of play, but there are many who struggle with it.
“You see some fourth liners [from North America] that come to Europe — even those who played in the NHL — and they have a hard time here because it’s just a faster game,” said Joly.
Each Dutch team is only allowed a handful of imports, often Canadians or Americans. Foreign players form the core of the team and receive the largest salaries due to their highly-tuned skill sets and regulated supply, something Joly says can be a bit of a double-edged sword.
“You get a lot of ice time for sure because there aren’t a lot of imports,” said Joly. “When you come here for sure you’re going to play 30 minutes a game. At the same time a lot is expected of the imports. There is pressure to perform.”
While some Canadian players flock to Europe to pursue professional goals, others go abroad for much different reasons.
“The lifestyle, the weather, the country,” said Daniel Shaw, listing some common reasons for Canadians coming to play in his native Australia. “We have a strong league over here but I’d doubt that that’s the main reason why Canadians come over here to play.”
Shaw, a dual citizen of Australia and Canada who played five seasons in the AIHL, believes that the inclusion of Canadians in the league helps grow the sport in Australia.
“There are more and more Canadians that hear about our league and want to come over and play,” said Shaw. “With that you get better imports every year and when you get Australians playing along side these players you can learn a lot.”
Looking at the rosters of teams from every continent one quickly realizes just how much truth there is to Pierre Trudeau’s words, “Canada is a country whose main exports are hockey players and cold fronts.”