For many hockey players, once they finish playing at a junior level, whether it be Major Junior or Junior ‘A’, their playing days are over. Finished. Kaput. ‘Fertig’.
For Springside’s Brett Breitkreuz, however, the end of his junior career in 2010 was just the beginning of his professional one. But it wasn’t the typical professional hockey career that North American hockey fans would assume.
Breitkreuz did not go straight from the WHL (where he spent time with the Kelowna Rockets, Edmonton Oil Kings and Vancouver Giants) to the NHL.
Instead, Breitkreuz chose the path less traveled when it came to playing professional hockey.
After suiting up for the Edmonton Oilers in a couple of exhibition games during NHL Camp Breitkreuz had a couple of options: He could test of the waters of the AHL which might have him sent to the ECHL after camp, or go the European route; an option that has scared many a Canadian hockey player into retirement and beer league hockey.
Breitkreuz chose the latter option, signing with Kölner Haie (Cologne Sharks) of the German league DEL in 2010.
Fast forward to the 2013-14 season. Breitkreuz is still in the DEL but he is no longer a member of the Cologne Sharks.
Breitkreuz, instead, has traded in the boisterous big city of Cologne (population: 1.24 million) for the quaint, small town feel of south-west Bavaria’s Augsburg (population: 270,000).
And he couldn’t be happier. “I’m enjoying my time in Augsburg,” offered the 25-year-old forward, continuing, “But it’s definitely a change. Cologne’s a city with a million people. It’s big, it’s European, it’s cool and Augsburg’s a little more laid back and a little smaller but it was a great opportunity for me and a great move. It worked out well for me. I played a lot and I had a pretty good start offensively.”
That good start offensively, Breitkreuz said, eventually dwindled. However the 6’1”, 203 pound dual citizen still managed to look at his fourth DEL season positively. After all, he managed his largest offensive output thus far in his career with six goals and six assists for 12 points and, more importantly, he played in all 52 games; something that, coming off of some serious injuries in the past, is good news. “That was a big deal for me (playing every game),” offered Breitkreuz. “I had some bad injuries my first couple of years. My second year I tore my labrum in the shoulder and that was three and a half months of rehab and that was a tough one. It was my first major injury and my first surgery.
“Last year I was playing every game up until Christmas when I was sitting on the bench and took a slapshot in the face and broke three bones and had major facial surgery so that was a little bit of bad luck. I never got the ball rolling after that.”
While his offensive production hasn’t been as impressive as he’d like it to be, Breitkreuz believes that that is not necessarily his job, anyway.
While most North American players are signed as imports and are looked upon to provide the bulk of the offence, Breitkreuz’s situation, both in seasons past in Cologne and his most current one in Augsburg, is different. He is looked upon for his grit and toughness and, while offence is always appreciated, it is not his number one role.
That’s because Breitkreuz, by virtue of his Grandparents, is a dual citizen and holds a German passport meaning that, while he is Canadian born and bred and has honed his skills in Saskatchewan through to the WHL, he is also a German citizen and therefore has found a ‘loop-hole’ of sorts. “I’m lucky enough that my family is German so I have a German passport meaning I don’t count as an import,” mentioned Breitkreuz. “I’m thankful every day that my Grandparents decided to come to Canada and give me that opportunity.”
But Breitkreuz isn’t the only “Canadian/German” within the DEL. Yes, there are other players with dual citizenship.
However the DEL itself is basically a larger version of Breitkreuz in the sense that it too is a “dual citizen”.
Hockey in Germany is unlike hockey anywhere else in Europe. The large North American influence means that German hockey is far more physical than its fellow European leagues. Something that Breitkreuz feels plays to his strengths. “It’s probably, I would say, the most physical of the European leagues and the most North American style with the straight ahead as opposed to the East and West,” mentioned Breitkreuz. “It’s a good fit for me because that’s my game.”
Breitkreuz then offered up some information pertaining to the stereotypical thought that hockey in Europe is much different than it is in North America. “The big ice does make a bit of a difference because you’ve got to be a little more positionally sound and do a little bit more skating and can’t run around as much because it’s a long way back to the net if you get beat,” said the Springside native. “But honestly it’s not that much of a difference. When you boil it down it’s still a forecheck and a backcheck and you’re still trying to score goals.
“I think the biggest difference is the speed of the game. It’s probably faster in North America because it’s more chip and chase and there is less open ice but as far as the physicality goes, the German league is pretty physical.”
But one has to wonder, would Breitkreuz accept an NHL contract if a team came calling?
Of course he would. But if that doesn’t happen, Breitkreuz won’t be upset. “In the end I’m playing a game that I absolutely love and that I’ve been playing since I was six years old but the difference is that I’m getting paid to do it,” said the Augsburg Panther wrecking ball. “I’m making a living playing hockey and it’s a great feeling. I wake up every morning and I’m fortunate and thankful that that is my career.”