For many an NHL player, Europe has provided a haven in the midst of another lockout-blighted season, a means to earn money while staying sharp in the event that the NHL can eventually resume play.
However, the culture shock that accompanies the shift across the Atlantic Ocean isn't for everyone, as Ottawa Senators forward Kyle Turris quickly found out this fall.
Fresh off signing a new five-year, $15-million (all currency U.S.) deal in the summer, Turris was skating and training in Ottawa with fellow NHLers through August and September.
But a phone call out of the blue in early October changed his world in a hurry, and after a quick Google search to find out exactly where he was going, Turris was on a plane to Oulu in Finland on Oct. 9 to join Karpat of the SM-Liiga.
“I really didn’t plan on going over to Europe at all,” he said while in Finland, “but gradually guys started leaving and we were left with only six guys to try and make a competitive skate. It doesn’t really work.”
Turris had never heard of Oulu before his arrival but, along with roommate and fellow NHLer Jason Demers of the San Jose Sharks, made an immediate impact. Karpat was stuck in 13th place before the arrival of Turris, but he led them into fifth place in the SM-Liiga, trailing Jokerit by a mere four points.
However, it wasn't exactly what he expected - Turris admitted the style of play is “night and day” from North America - and worse, the 23-year-old New Westminster, B.C., native found he was just as bored in Finland waiting for the lockout to end as he was back on this side of the pond, and since the interview has returned to North America.
“There’s nothing to do here. Nothing,” Turris said recently while playing in Oulu. “If we’re not at the rink, we’re sitting around playing video games.”
For perspective, on the day of the interview the sun rose in Oulu just after 10 a.m. and quickly set shortly after 2 p.m. On top of the four hours of sunlight, it was also minus-20 C.
“I’m going stir crazy over here.”
Many horror stories have been shed about the operation of the Continental Hockey League over in Russia in particular, but apparently the SM-Liiga isn’t the most comfortable or professionally run league either when compared to NHL standards.
“The travel here is horrendous. It’s worse than junior,” he said. “We’ll fly into Helsinki then hop in a bus for four to six hours, meanwhile, we’ll make three stops on a six-hour bus trip for no reason. It’s awful.”
Although North America will never be mistaken for its culinary prowess like France or Italy, Turris quickly found out that it can get worse.
“The food here is awful,” he explained. “On the road, we eat at truck stops. ABC truck stops. I’m not kidding. We file out of the bus and head off beside the highway for a buffet truck stop pregame meal. It’s ridiculous.”
The media operation isn’t any more comfortable.
After his first game, Turris was taken upstairs to a podium in front of 100 sponsors in an audience looking at him not understanding a word.
“It’s so awkward. They don’t understand anything that you’re saying, staring at you confused,” he said. “I feel like a complete idiot, trying to use hand signals to help communicate.”
The current NHL work stoppage has been especially frustrating for Turris, who was looking forward to his first full season with the Sens.
“Yeah, it was frustrating. I love Ottawa and I think it’s the perfect fit,” he said. “I was really pumped to turn over a new leaf and start fresh with a full season.”
When asked about the player-owner meetings and the recent negotiations, Turris had some interesting comments and ideas.
“I’m supportive of the NHLPA going into the [player-owner] meetings but I think it’s an unfair playing surface,” he said. “We’re going into a room with billionaire owners who have made lots of money doing exactly this. We [the players] don’t know the ins and outs like they do.”
In terms of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr stepping aside to aid negotiations, Turris added sarcastically, “We don’t pay these guys millions of dollars to not be in meetings. They should be there.”
Asked if he had a better idea for some traction, Turris added that “the best case scenario would be to have a bigger meeting with all 30 owners, all players, Bettman, [NHL deputy commissioner Bill] Daly and both Fehrs [Donald and brother Steve, the NHLPA special counsel]. That way the NHLPA can be sure that all 30 owners are getting the message, not filtered information from the select leaders like Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs.
“What I find so incredible is that the best hockey in the world is being withheld from millions of people because of a handful of people: Jacobs, [Calgary owner Murray] Edwards, [Philadelphia owner Ed] Snider and Bettman. They hold it in their hands.”
Turris has clearly carved a nice home in Ottawa since his departure from Phoenix, now he just needs a season to get started.
“It’s really exciting in Ottawa because we are going to have such a good, young team. We have five years to make good things happen.”
Editor’s note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Kyle Turris is still playing for Karpat Oulu in the Finnish SM-Liiga. He has returned to Canada. This version has been corrected.