(Stick)Handling a New Home

Photo of two hockey players dressed in their black sweat suits.

Christian Jaros (left) and Andreas Englund are pictured at the former Yardmen now CAA Arena, where they play for the Belleville Senators American Hockey League franchise. – Photo by Stephen Petrick

Christian Jaros and Andreas Englund have been honing their hockey skills in Belleville, hoping to earn a call up to the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators. But off their ice, they’re learning a bit about being Canadians.

They are two of several players with Belleville’s new American Hockey League franchise who hail from overseas. Jaros, a defenceman, is from Slovakia. Englund, also a defenceman, is from Sweden. The 2017-18 season marked their first year living in Canada and it allowed them to learn about how kind Canadian neighbours are and how cool a Canadian lifestyle can be.

For both players, the adjustment of moving to Canada was softened by the fact that their hockey journeys had already taken them away from home. Jaros, now 22, moved from Slovakia to Sweden at age 16 to pursue his career. And Englund, also 22, has spent a year south of the border – he played the 2016-17 season with the Binghamton, N.Y. Senators, before the team was re-located to Belleville.

Still, coming to a new country can be difficult or anyone, even for people in the transient world of professional hockey.

“There are a lot of similarities, but the there are a lot of differences too,” says Englund, comparing Sweden to Canada. “Like going to a grocery store, you don’t know a single brand. You don’t have a clue. Back home, mom and dad bought whatever they bought. Here you just have to pick one and buy it.”

Jaros says nearly the same thing. “Canada has different food, different stuff, but once you get used to it you feel like it’s home again. It doesn’t take too long,” he says.

Both players say their teammates – most of whom are either Canadian or American – helped them out with little adjustments. They also both expressed gratefulness to the people of Belleville, for welcoming them into the community.

It didn’t take long for Englund to learn about how friendly Canadian neighbours are. Early in the year, a storm knocked a tree down in the front yard of his home and his neighbours helped him remove it. Jaros says, he, too has been impressed by his neighbours and how helpful they have been, helping him and his girlfriend adjust to Canadian life. “My neighbours are great – they’re perfect,” he says.

Both players are getting to know Belleville, too. Jaros says he enjoyed participating in team visits to local hospitals and getting to know fans. Englund says he and his girlfriend made a point of visiting the Brake Room, a new downtown Belleville business that caters to cyclists, at least once a week for coffee.  He also made it onto the Bay of Quinte ice over the winter to try ice fishing. And yes, he experienced the thrill of catching a big walleye, the fish the big waterway is renowned for. “That was fun,” he says, with a grin.

The Belleville Senators inaugural season wrapped up in mid-April, as the team did not make the AHL playoffs.  Both players were off soon after. Jaros headed towards Denmark, to get ready to play for Slovakia at the World Hockey Championship and then spend the off season bouncing between Slovakia and Sweden. Jaros also planned to head home for Sweden, where he does his off-season training.

In 2018-19 they hope to play in the NHL. The reality is that no hockey player wants to remain in the AHL for their whole career if they can help it. However, both players know that if they return to Belleville, it’s not a bad thing, given how the city embraces its hockey players, no matter which country they’re from.

“I’m just really happy the way the community has taken care of us. They showed us support,” says Englund. “I’m really thankful for (Belleville) being the community it is.

Jaros says, “I just want to thank the fans for the season. It was amazing. They supported us every game.”

— Written and Photographed by Stephen Petrick