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Girtz Lands on Team in Sweden


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For the past 5 years, when someone asked me the question "What do you do?", the answer primarily revolved around my job; "I’m a civil engineer" I’d reply… 

After graduating from the University of North Dakota with my bachelors degree, I immediately moved to Kelowna, British Columbia and started working as a consulting engineer. In Kelowna I played on a few recreational men’s and women’s hockey teams, but the games never had the intensity or competitiveness of Division 1 hockey that I experienced in college. I missed every aspect of playing high level hockey: training, the mental and physical challenge, and also the one of a kind bond you develop with teammates. 

Last fall I travelled with my dad to Europe for a month.  It was my first time overseas and I absolutely loved every place we went; the people, the food, and the storied history of each city. I came back from the trip with an itch to see more of Europe and as I sat in my cubicle back at work in Kelowna I knew I wanted to get back as soon as I could. 

A few of my friends in Canada had played hockey overseas so I spoke to them about their experiences. My good friend, Kristen Olychuck had recently returned from playing in Sweden and joined my women’s rec team in Kelowna as our goalie.  Last summer, Kristen and I decided to start contacting teams in Europe in hopes of finding one looking for both a forward and a goalie. 

We emailed with teams from Germany, Switzerland and Sweden. After a month or so of discussions, we eventually signed contracts with Segeltorps IF of the Riksserien league in Sweden.  While my decision to leave a secure, well-paying job in Canada was difficult, I knew that if I didn’t do it now, I probably never would. 

On September 4, Oly and I left for Stockholm, Sweden with our lives packed into 4 hockey bags (I had serious deliberations deciding which clothes and shoes to leave behind). We arrived at Arlanda airport around 9AM and the team GM picked us up to drive us the hour or so into the city. That same morning we went to the hockey store to get some new equipment and also filled out our IIHF transfer cards. The GM brought us to the "Hockey Villa", a house near the rink that is rented to the team, which was to be our home for the season. 

The following day, we had our first practice with the team.  We started with ‘fystraining’ (off-ice) and then had a 1 hour ice time. It was quite a change being in a structured practice again. Even with the intense training program I’d been doing over the summer, my legs and lungs had a long way to go to be back in game shape. Over the next two weeks, Oly and I settled into a routine with hockey, explored our town Segeltorp, and also ventured into downtown Stockholm. 

Hockey was going well; we had an exhibition game against one of the Division 1 women’s teams (the league below the Riksserien) which we won, and then had 2 more exhibition games scheduled against teams in our league the following weekend. 

On Saturday, we played Lingköping and on Sunday we played AIK, the Riksserien defending champions. Oly played in goal against AIK and after the game was in quite a bit of pain – she has a history of problems with her hips and apparently something from practice the previous Friday had aggravated it, and then gotten even worse during the game on Sunday.  

By our next practice day, Oly was still in enough pain to make the decision not to practice. She told me pain was caused by the same injury that necessitated surgery on both of her hips two years prior. Knowing the symptoms and her own body, she said there was an unfortunately obvious answer to the situation — there was no way she could continue to play on a daily basis without permanently injuring her hips — thus she made the decision to leave Sweden. 

Oly injured herself on a Friday and had booked a flight home to Canada and was gone by the next Thursday. The Europe experience I had imagined and banked on for the next 8 months had suddenly been jarringly pulled out from under me.  After a long, (teary) Skype call to my Dad at 9AM (3AM his time in the U.S.- thanks Dad!) I was reassured by the philosophy that has stuck with me more than any other through tough times in my life — ‘everything happens for a reason’. I realized while yes, the experience may be different without a good friend, but it will ultimately be what I make of it. Being in a foreign country, now relatively on my own, I knew I’d have to make more of an effort to meet people and put myself out there. While it might not be as comfortable or easy, it definitely has the potential to be great. I also reminded myself how lucky I am to have this opportunity and regardless of the circumstances, I’m set on making the most of it. 

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