ASU Hockey Makes A Home Away from Home for its European Players
By Will Everett // NCAA Hockey Beat Writer for Blaze Sports
TEMPE, AZ Nestled along the northern coast of the Baltic Sea lies a small country known for its historic capital and warm hearted people. I first traveled to Latvia for a hockey tournament that was hosted by Finland in the spring of 2012. Like most kids should, we used an early elimination as an excuse to peruse Riga.
And let me tell you, Riga is a city filled with enchanting history and a wonderful atmosphere. Let’s also not forget that north of this country lies its much larger Scandinavian brother… Sweden.
Sweden was the first stop on my tour that spring.
Now, both countries are very different in language, culture and demographic. But the one thing that remains consistent: they have some damn good hockey players over there, and ASU is blessed to be laden with them.
The Arizona State University Men’s NCAA Hockey team (2-6-2) has three European players on the roster. Two of ASU’s players are from Latvia; freshman Filips Buncos and freshman Gvido Jansons; and one from Sweden, junior Jakob Stridsberg. Jansons and Stridsberg have both been solid defensively for the Sun Devils so far this season. Stridsberg in particular is also having a strong offensive season, tallying five points in the first six games.
But the transition has not been easy.
“The speed is very different in the U.S., and obviously the language of the game is different,” Stridsberg said.
Buncis agreed. Buncis said that him and Jansons see each other as countrymen, but don’t speak Latvian around the team during an recent interview.
“If we go out to dinner on a Saturday, we speak Latvian and talk about home,” Buncos said. “But when we are around the team we speak English…it’s nice to have the home connection though.”
Surprisingly, Jansons and Buncis have combined for only one point as of October 27. But Buncos is optimistic about the team’s success moving forward.
“I think our start was a little rough,” Buncis said. “But we’re a lot better than the results show.
Which is encourging because being so far away from home can tax the mind as well as the body. What’s impressive is the leadership and positivity being shown by all three players.
We can still have a really good year.”Stridsberg agreed when talking about ASU’s slow start to the season. “We want to win more games. We want to be 500. Obviously we play a tough schedule, but that’s fun to play against the highest level.”
All three Europeans made the decision to leave their respective countries to pursue an education in the United States. Similarly, they also all played in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) before ASU. The NAHL is a tier-II junior league here in the United States.
And yet even with all this time playing here in the States, the thought of returning to Europe is definitely on their minds at time.
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about [going back to Sweden] it depends on what happens after,” said Stridsberg.
While it’s clear that ASU is an excellent home away from home, one can’t deny that it is a little different. Stridsberg went on to mention that the language barrier was difficult to overcome, but there weren’t any opportunities to pursue hockey in Sweden, which helped in his decision for him to leave home.
While the style of hockey may be different, naturally the atmosphere that the game creates has been a major positive for Buncis particularly. ASU provides a rowdy environment at times that is liked among the players too.
“There have been games where the student section comes and they cheer and scream…it’s a lot of fun,” Buncis said.
The three European musketeers will look to enjoy their off weekend this upcoming week, and look forward to two games against Penn State at Gila River Arena on November 17 and 18.
Will Everett is Blaze Radio’s beat writer for the NCAA Hockey team at Arizona State. You can reach out to him at email@example.com or follow Will on Twitter @TheRealWillyEvs.