Pucks Across the Pond: Mountain Pressure

  • Graphic by Eric Bent

Not half the professional hockey players in the world can say they’ve experienced playing in an officiated outdoor game, let alone one nestled in the Swiss Alps—a mini European Winter Classic just three days before the NHL’s version between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers.

This game, however, pitted the Concordia Stingers against the Swiss League’s EHC St. Moritz. Although it wasn’t captured by HBO cameras, like the lead-up to the NHL Winter Classic was for the four-part 24/7 series, a budding cinematographer on the Stingers made sure that the event didn’t go unrecorded.

The game was part of a two-week stint in Europe, which some on the team called an experience of a lifetime—but special for some in bizarre and memorable ways.

“It was a tremendous experience that we couldn’t have gotten if we stayed here and skated at a local tournament,” said Stingers head coach Kevin Figsby.

There are a few plus sides to the outdoor venue in St. Moritz’s Eisarena Ludains. For one, on a purely practical level, the players’ body odour steams off into the fresh Swiss air.

There’s also the fact that beyond the rink lies a stunning mountain vista trimmed with European cabin-style houses, which are emulated around the world for their beauty. The first time Figsby saw this sight, he couldn’t help but forget all about the game—for a moment.

“At the four-minute mark of the second period the snow stopped,” said Figsby. “You couldn’t see the other side of the rink because of the snow, but when it stopped we realized we were looking out at the playground of Europe.”

“It was like Mont Tremblant on steroids,” said Stingers left-winger Roberto Mormina. Though he’s not in Concordia’s film program, Mormina’s passionate and brought his camera gear, which he strapped around players’ chests and placed atop the goalie’s helmet during the game so he could put together a documentary of the trip from the players’ perspectives.

Being on the Swiss-Italian boarder, some conversed in Italian, some English, some French, but they all understood the universal language spoken by players convening after an outdoor hockey game—beer.

“There’s five hours of footage from the game, the mountain, the events and activities that we did on this trip. I’m going to compile a montage so everyone can take it home in the next few weeks.”

One player relying on Mormina to come through with decent footage of the Swiss game is right-winger Michael Stinziani—his jaw-dropping goal trumped the beautiful Swiss backdrop.

“Mike knitted the guy a sweater,” said coach Figsby, praising Stinziani’s needle-and-thread precision dekes. “He went from right to left, right to left, and then put it right through the goalie’s legs. It’s probably one of the prettiest goals I’ve seen in my 13 years of coaching at the university level.”

Even Stinziani couldn’t help but get brash, comparing it to the astounding playoff goal by the Anaheim Ducks’ Bobby Ryan that hit highlight reels last April.
“I put [the puck] through his stick a couple times, it’s probably the nicest goal I’ve ever scored.”

To make it more memorable, he did it in front of a few familiar faces too.
“I had some family come watch. The last time I saw them was when I was eight years old, so it’s nice to meet family that I might not see for the next 10 years,” said Stinziani. “It was their first hockey game, so it was
cool that I could score a couple goals in front of them.”

Stinziani’s Italian roots and knowledge of the language helped out when the skates were off, too. After the game, the Swiss captain invited the team to come into their dressing room for a few beers, something unheard of in the modern game.

Being on the Swiss-Italian boarder, some conversed in Italian, some English, some French, but they all understood the universal language spoken by players convening after an outdoor hockey game—beer.

“They just turned up the stereo and swapped stories. It was a wonderful moment for our kids from a life-experience perspective,” said Figsby.

In terms of the scoreboard, the Stingers eased through their two games. Facing a less physical opposition, they put that side of their game on hold, and took on the Swiss passing-and-skating game head-on. They still won comfortably, 5-3, and in Italy they routed a team from Bellinzona 12-8.

But just because the quality of the opposition wasn’t up to the Stingers’ standards doesn’t mean that they didn’t take anything from the team’s European tour.

“We don’t get those types of games here. What it did was allow us to say, ‘Okay, there are things that can add to our game that can make us that much better,’” said Figsby. “I think you’ll see a difference in our collective play now.”

This focus on skill instead of physical play will give the players more confidence with their abilities, according to Figsby. Concordia are still sweating about finally winning a major trophy, given that their last one was in 1984.

They need to start showing this newfound confidence soon if they want to contend—the Stingers currently sit in sixth place in their division.

A mere 36 hours after a grueling flight from Europe it was business as usual, as the team was bag-skated in a decidedly body-odour-tinged Loyola rink right for their very first practice of 2012.

The team’s next game is Jan. 13 at Queen’s before returning home the following Saturday to face Royal Military College.

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