It may seem like a European Vacation to the uninitiated, but North American hockey players don’t head overseas because they’re following a National Lampoon script.
Players who hail from this side of the Atlantic take up winter residence in European countries to make a living while experiencing the sights and cultures far-away nations have to offer. Over the past dozen years, a long list of former Red Deer Rebels players have signed and delivered with teams from across the pond.
For the record, the list includes:
Doug Lynch (with Rebels from 1999-2002) — The big defenceman, who scored the overtime winner in the 2001 Memorial Cup final, was a second-round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2002 but played just two games in the NHL. He toiled in the minor pros before heading overseas and is now in his seventh season with Salzburg EC in the Austrian League.
Jeff Woywitka (1999-2003) — Unlike Lynch, Woywitka is well-seasoned at the NHL level. Taken by Philadelphia in the first round of the 2001 draft, the Vermilion native and WHL defenceman of the year in 2002-03 played 278 NHL games with St. Louis, Dallas and the New York Rangers and is in his first season with the Augsburg Panthers of the German League (2-6-8 in 28 games).
Jordan Knackstedt (2004-06) — Selected by Boston in the seventh round of the 2007 NHL draft, Knackstedt played four seasons in the AHL before skating for two years in Italy. He also played a season in Sweden before returning to North American. Knackstedt is currently with Bakersfield of the ECHL.
Ashton Rome (2004-05) — Rome was drafted by two NHL teams — Boston in 2004 and San Jose two years later — but never played at the top level, instead toiling in the AHL and ECHL for seven years before taking his talents to Germany. He is currently playing his second season with Duesseldorf EG and has 18 points (9-9) in 30 games.
Jordan Henry (2005-07) — The defenceman kicked around the minor pros for three years before finding a home with the Minsk Dynamo of the KHL. He returned to play one year in the AHL, then played in Sweden and Finland before again returning to North America. Henry is now with Florida of the ECHL (6-11-17 in 22 games).
Shay Stephenson (2000-2004) — A member of the Rebels’ Memorial Cup championship team along with Woywitka and Lynch, the native of Outlook, Sask., was drafted twice — by Edmonton in 2001 and Carolina two years later — and played two games in the NHL with Los Angeles in 2006. Since then, he’s played in Italy, Germany and Sweden.
Matt Ellison (2002-03) — A fourth-round draft pick of Chicago in 2002, Ellison appeared in 43 NHL games with the Blackhawks and Philadelphia and has been employed by teams in Russia and Switzerland since 2008. Ellison is now in his first season with Zagreb of the KHL (7-6-13 in 34 games).
Matt Keith (2002-03) — Keith played 27 NHL games with the Chicago Blackhawks —who drafted him in 2001 — and the New York Islanders, but spent the major portion of his North American pro career in the AHL. He’s been in Europe since 2011, toiling with clubs in Sweden, Czech Republic and — most recently — Austria.
Carsen Germyn (2001-03) — A talented and speedy spark plug, Germyn got into four NHL games with the Calgary Flames — in 2005-06 and the following season — and finally took his skills to Europe in 2010 when another NHL opportunity didn’t come his way. Germyn played his first season overseas with Olton of the Swiss B League and has been with Straubing of the German League since 2011 (16-17-33 in 44 games this season).
Jim Vandermeer (1997-2001) — The captain of the Rebels Memorial Cup championship team, Vandermeer is a grizzled NHL veteran with 461 games under his belt. Signed by Philadelphia as a free agent in 2001, he eventually played with six NHL teams — the Flyers, Chicago, Calgary, Phoenix, Edmonton and San Jose — before playing in the AHL last winter. He’s in his first season with Kloten of the Swiss League (2-0-12 in 45 games) and was with Team Canada in the recent Spengler Cup tournament.
Colby Armstrong (1998-2002) — A well-rounded forward with the Rebels, Armstrong was known more his feisty play in the NHL than his scoring prowess. A first-round pick of Pittsburgh in 2001, Armstrong appeared in 476 NHL games with the Penguins, Atlanta, Toronto and Montreal, spending last winter with the Canadiens. He ventured to Sweden last fall to set up shop with Vaxjo HC and has contributed 11 goals and 15 points in 31 games with his new club.
Ross Lupaschuk (1999-2001) — Lupaschuk teamed with Vandermeer to form arguably the best defensive pair in the WHL in 2000-01. His skills, however, were never a fit at the top level as he played just three NHL games, all with Pittsburgh. The Edmonton native, picked by Washington in the second round of the ‘99 draft, played the better part of three full seasons in the AHL before embarking on his overseas adventure which has included stops in Sweden, Finland, Russia, Germany and Austria, where this season he is with Salzburg EC (3-11-14 in 26 games).
Justin Mapletoft (1997-2001) — The WHL scoring leader and CHL player of the year in 2000-01, Mapletoft joined the Islanders — who drafted him in the fifth round in ‘99 — in the 2002-03 season but played in only 11 games, to go with 27 outings the following year. That was it for his NHL career and the Lloydminster product was on his way to Finland in 2005. After playing in Sweden and Germany the following two seasons, he returned to play in the AHL in 2007, but was back in Europe the following year and played in Austria and Germany. His latest available statistics are from last season (0-6-6 in 14 games with Schwenningen ERC).