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Living and Playing in Erzurum, Turkey

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Hello all!

My name is Jocelynne, 23 years old, a Canadian from Toronto, Ontario, who recently made the move to Erzurum, Turkey to play ice hockey in the TBHF; Turkish Ice Hockey Super League!

Why Turkey?

Many people have often asked me this question, while also shocked that Turkey has ice hockey to begin with. The TBHF (Türkiye Buz Hokeyi Süper Ligi) has actually been around for quite some time; it was founded in 1993. The league operates under the Turkish Ice Hockey Federation, which is part of the International Ice Hockey Federation. The opportunity to play in this league came rather suddenly, and my decision to make the journey to here was just as quick. I had recently graduated from Elmira College in April of 2014, having competed on the schools varisty women’s hockey team during my four years there. I was fortunate enough to have experienced tremendous success while being a part of that team, winning a NCAA Division III title, playing with some of the best athletes and best people I have ever met, and having been coached by some of the greatest in this division. 

After graduating, I began working, holding 3 different jobs, and playing hockey was something I could do only once a week-if that. I wasn’t ready to be finished with the sport. A good friend of mine mentioned an opporunity to play overseas, in Turkey, and so I got in touch with one of the coaches for Narman Spor Kolubu, a team based out of Erzurum, Turkey, and I signed my contract within a few days. 

I departed Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Decmber 13th, making the long journey which had me stop in Montreal, Geneva, Istanbul, and finally arriving in Ankara on the 14th where I was greeted by one of the managers of my team,Burhanettin Eser, his wife Semra, and two of my teammates. From the airport we had a short journey to my managers home where I would spend just a few hours before taking off again with my one teammate from Slovakia,Petra, to Erzurum. As you can probably tell, it was a long and exhausting beginning to my hockey journey, but the hospitality and friendliness that I was greeted with made everything so much easier. Burhanettin, his wife, and 2 daughters were incredibly kind and comforting, truly great people.

After arriving in Erzurum, Petra and I met with our assistant coach and teammate Yeliz, along with another sponsor for our team, Cengiz. From here we made our way to our first place of stay to drop our belongings off, and than made the trip to the arena. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect as we were driving to the arena, but I was pleasantly surprised when we drove into the parking area. The arena is fantastic, modern, cold, and surrounded by a beautiful, mountainous lanscape that you can see 360 degress in walking along the inside of the facility. I was ecstatic! 

We quickly unpacked our equipment, then made our way to a restaurant in the "downtown" part of Erzurum, about a 5 minute drive from the arena. I was ready to eat! And I can honestly say that the food here is unbelievable, especially the desserts!! Everything is fresh and delicious, but of course very different from the food from home, so I had to keep an open mind. 

After we ate, Cengiz and Yeliz took Petra and I to the police station where we completed our paperwork for residency, received our health insurance policies, and looked after any other miscellaneous documentation. It was a very stress-free procedure, and it didn’t take very long to complete either which was nice. When we were finished at the police station, Petra and I were taken to another restaurant where we met with Burhanettin and his daughter and another teammate. Again, the food was incredible, and it was here that I noticed a trend in Turkish culture; tea or "çay" (pronounced chai) is drank after every single meal as it is believed to help with digestion.

From the restaurant we all went home, and settled down for the night. However, the next day we were moved into a nice apartment in the downtown area of the city, close to the shopping mall, stores, little bakeries, and about a 5 minute drive to the arena-much closer than our previous place of stay. Here, myself, Petra and Yeliz live together.

Every day, or at least 5/6 times a week, we walk to the bus stop where our teams’ transportation service picks us up and takes us to practice. We have two hours a day for practice, and then the same service takes our team home. We are all very well looked after, and very fortunate to have the accomodations and resources that we do. 

As for games, there are three main places we play. Erzurum, Istanbul, and Ankara. Every location is around a two hour flight from eachother, which makes for a fun and quick travelling experience with girls. Home games are by far the best though. Our first home game was against the defending league champions, a rivalry match! Preparing to come onto the ice for the first period, I could not believe the amount of fans that we had in our stands-hundreds! All sporting out team colours, logos, and flags, shouting and cheering; it was quite the sight!

The game was exciting, the girls were talented and the pace was higher than I had expected. The style of play is different though, not exactly what I am used to, but it was our first game, first time playing together so overall I was happy. We won 4-1 and at the sound of the final buzzer, the crowd just erupted with cheer, as did our bench. The win meant more to our team and our management/sponsors than I could have imagined. Everyone was ecstatic. Fans came onto the ice with us, congratulating us, and asking to take pictures with Petra and myself; it was quite the experience, very overwhelming but so much fun.  

What better thing to do after a big win than go celebrate? Our sponsors and management took myself, Petra, Yeliz, and two other teammates for dinner at a very upscale, and traditional Turkish restaurant. Again, the food was fantastic, and there was plenty of it too. A person will never go hungry here, the portions are massive! And of course, I drank some çay afterwards, like everyone else. Although I felt like I could not move, Burhanettin insisted that we go to the bakery for sweets, another reward for such a huge win, so we went, and we ate more, and drank some more çay. 

When the evening was finished and we finally arrived at home, I reflected on the day, before the game where we were treated to a delicious breakfast at cafe MADO (a favourite place of mine), given our favourite fruits and snacks for pregame/during the game, experiencing the volume of fans and their support, how great it was to see our team, sponsors, and management so happy after defeating the defending league champions. I really felt blessed to be here. The generosity and hospitality that I have been so fortunate to experience while being here has been second to none. Everyone, from my teammates, to our sponsors, from our management, and those within the community have been nothing but overly kind and supportive. 

I am truly fortunate to be here, in Erzurum, playing for such a great team, and to be part of this amazing program. I hope this entry has given you a little insight to what it is like to be living, and playing ice hockey here in Erzurum. There is so much more to say, and talk about but its coming close to practice time, so I must get ready. 

Until next time!

Thank you for reading 🙂

Jocelynne

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