Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Allons Enfants de la Patrie....

Allons Enfants de la Patrie.....Le jour de gloire est arrivé....

That is the first part of the Marseillaise (French National Anthem), so it is fitting to start off this blog post with that because last Friday I received my French Passport!  It was a very exciting day because since being informed that I have become a French citizen on June 22nd 2010, I have been waiting patiently for my official documents.

Back to la Marseillaise.... I felt it was important to learn the French anthem so on my flight over to France with my girlfriend Marion, we spent a good part of our 12 hour flight from Vancouver singing together. Line after line it would go until Marion was just so exhausted with the sound of my voice, she put on her headphones and watched a movie as I continued writing out the lines in the song and going over it again and again.

By the time we landed in Paris (and for the next 3 weeks) that is the only song I had in my head.

When I received that call from La Mairie on Friday morning that my passport had arrived, I simply said "J'arrive!"  (I'm on my way)

When I arrived, there was nobody there so I went right in, signed a few documents, they took my fingerprints because this is a Biometric passport, then it was official!  Right after that, being in the French spirit, I went to my favourite Boulangerie where they have the best "pain au chocolat" in the world and amazing "croissants" too.  After grabbing 2 of each, I parked the car in the Centre Ville and walked up to the Castle.  From the top of the Castle you can see the entire city of Epinal, so I sat up there and took 45 minutes to just appreciate my French Nationality and eat my treats from la boulangerie.  During that time, I just looked back upon my arrival in France and thought about how far I had come and how many people helped me get to this day.  It was almost 4 years earlier that I sat in that very spot thinking "holy crap, I am in France playing hockey....what an adventure"

It feels real now that I have my actual documentation, but the day I get to use my passport in the European Union line at the airport is that day that I believe it will really sink in. No more big long lineups hahaha.

Monday, 10 January 2011

I have the Greatest Job in the World!!!!

I have the greatest job in the world!  I really do!

I am a professional hockey player :)  It just seems so simple to say this and it isn't anything new or a surprise the just arrived on Christmas morning.  I am in my 4th season of Pro Hockey in France and I feel that over these years, at times, I may have taken things for granted or maybe been just a bit too serious or emotionally invested.  Don't get me wrong, I do take hockey very seriously, but getting too emotionally upset about a mistake in a game or being injured or the coach not playing you on the power play...etc... If that stuff starts creeping into your everyday life and getting you down, then it is time to remember how lucky we really are with hockey being our passion and also our job.

Over the course of my first season in France I was just living in the moment, picking out all the cool differences France had from Canada, keeping a journal and planning trips to Munich, Paris and Dublin.  The hockey was going great, and that was just a bonus.  I did not really consider myself as a professional, because I was barely getting paid and did not even sign a real contract.  In fact, it was agreed that I would work part time to earn my salary and they would give me 200 euro/month for food.  At the time I was also applying for Teacher's Education, a 1-year program that started in September.  My dream was always to play pro hockey, and I was doing it, but being a teacher was something I was interested in doing for a career also, mostly because of the holidays and summer vacation! 

My coach in Epinal at the time was Shawn Allard.  He was a very good motivator and a great coach who got the best out of his players.  Once our season ended, he started to assemble next year's team. He was selling me on playing another season and putting Teacher's Education on hold, as it was something I could do when hockey was finished.  Shawn pushed the right buttons and knew my passion for the game and my fierce competitiveness were much too strong to walk away from hockey to become a teacher. Without even waiting to see if I was accepted into the Teaching Programs, I signed for another season with Epinal.  Later that summer I was accepted to the University of Toronto, which I confidently had to turn down.
The day I considered myself a pro hockey player was a warm day in March of 2008 as a posed in a picture for the paper at La Capitainerie restaurant, having just signed my first "real" pro hockey contract.  It was not huge money but it was a real salary for a real job.......A Professional Hockey Player.

Still that summer I was back in Vancouver working as a Strength Coach for the Hockey Camps at Twist Conditioning like I had done the 2 summers before.  I would get my workouts in after 6pm when the work day was finished with (my roommate/co-worker/work out partner/party buddy) Casey Bartzen, who was also playing hockey in Europe. Working at Twist is awesome, but also very tiring when seriously preparing for a hockey season. Though with such a positive work environment and so much energy in the gym, I was getting really pumped up for the season in France and looking forward to starting my "real job."

Once I arrived in France again, I could not help but to feel such gratitude for my life.  I was living the dream!  I remember going to sleep at night and staring at my Canadian flag on the wall, thinking just how lucky I was in my life.  It was not a 9-5pm job, it was hockey, it was my passion and they were going to pay me to for it too?  Wow!  I could not even sleep at night, I was so excited, as my dream was being realized.

That year was amazing in so many ways.  I was not as much of a tourist anymore, though my trip to Amsterdam in November to see my great friend Adam Spinarsky was pretty awesome!  In October I met Marion and we have been together now for over 2 years, my team finished 6th out of 14 teams, our best finish in history, I was the top scoring defenseman in the league and I signed with the top team Briancon for the next season! 

The reason I feel so compelled to write about this today is because a few times over the last few years I think I forgot just how lucky I am to have a career playing the game I love.  A game I began playing in the Met Hospital parking lot across the street from my old house on Alsace in Windsor. The same game that I learned at Lanspeary Park Outdoor rink where my dad would bring ovaltine in a silver thermos to keep warm. Thinking about that now, I don't think that would be the best thing to stay hydrated eh dad?  I still have a huge bump on the side of my head from when I collided with my older brother Andre at Lanspeary. 

This is such a dream, to be able to live in Europe, play hockey at a high level where the team provides you with an apartment, a car, equipment, gym membership and a good salary.  If you stand back and look at this deal, it is a "dream job."  Not to mention all of the amazing people you meet along the way on this adventure.... the incredible fans in Epinal and Briancon who are so welcoming and passionate. 

Just today some mail arrived that was forwarded from Briancon to my address here in Epinal and inside the package was a note from the young mail man who was a big fan of Briancon hockey saying "Hey Steph, Happy New year and good luck for the rest of the season.  Nico."  Incredible!

So in a way, this blog serves as a reminder to myself,  when things are not playing out exactly how we want them to, take a step back for a minute and realize just how lucky I am to have this wonderful life.  I admit, this year has been very difficult with my injury and staying positive has been tough at times but something happened today that made me think "Ok, I am playing hockey for a living, I have my dream job, injuries are part of it, coaches make decisions I may not agree with, but how can I be negative or bumbed out when so many people are in jobs that they hate."  Just this past May, I was at my brother Andre's house and his next door neighbour Mark was over.  It was the off-season and a few of my friends were going out to party, so I was bugging them to come with me.  Mark apparently had to work the next day and replied "Sorry I have to work tomorrow, when do you work next, September?"  Hahahahaha, "ok, you got me Mark, haha"

My typical day involves waking up at 8:30 or 9am, making some breakfast, then hitting the gym for a workout, maybe even a sauna ;)  Then home for lunch (today was a salmon salad with tomatoes, onions and avocados), read a bit (Bob Probert's book: Tough Guy) or play PS3 (NHL 11) with my Finnish roommate Timo. Then go to the Wellington for a hot chocolate, maybe go to some stores in town, head home for a snack (eggs), play a little guitar, then go to practice at night.  The best part is coming home to my beautiful French girlfriend Marion!  She usually has dinner ready too!  Then we watch some TV together and go to bed!  Game days are a bit different but that would be just a regular day in Epinal.

I owe so much to the game of hockey, I am so grateful for the people I have met and the relationships I have built. Coming to France was the greatest decision of my life.  I now have a great hockey career that I will continue playing for years to come, I have learned to speak French fluently, won La Coupe de France Championship in Paris, have an amazing French girlfriend Marion, learned to play the guitar and harmonica, play hockey in front of amazing fans in a city I love, Epinal.  And to top it all off, I have even been granted French Citizenship!  My passport will arrive in a few weeks!  Wow!

I love when my family comes to visit me so we can share this amazing experience together. I wish they could come more often, the simplest things like having traditional French meals together are just so fun. I LOVE the food in France!!!!  We live right across the street from the grocery store (Géant Casino) so it works out perfectly!

So many more things I could add..... The Mauffrey family has been a huge help and a big reason I stayed in France after my first year, and Marion's family has been amazing too.  I am so grateful for this opportunity in life and I promise not to take anything for granted the rest of the way on this adventure. I will be in the moment and enjoy every minute of it because being a hockey player