After spending last season overseas playing for Assat in Pori, Finland, right winger Greg Classen is more than happy to be back with the Milwaukee Admirals competing for a job in the National Hockey League.
Like many professional hockey players, the Aylsham, Sask., native was left in a bind when NHL owners locked out their players for the entire 2004-05 season. After much deliberation, Classen made the decision to take his game across the Atlantic to Europe.
“I just wanted to play in Europe one of these years in my career,” said Classen. “I had been with Nashville (NHL) for four years, and I figured with the lockout it’d be a good year to go over there.”
Once in Finland, Classen found life a little more challenging than in North America. “Language was definitely an issue,” said Classen, “Finnish is a pretty tough language to pick up.”
English is spoken to some extent in Finland, but according to Classen it was not very easy to come by.
“They speak English over there, but it depends who you’re talking to,” he said. “Some people who speak it well may be too shy to use it,” he added.
Another adjustment Classen had to make was living life an ocean away from his family. Dealing with an eight-hour time difference made phone conversations inconvenient unless they were planned ahead of time.
“You can’t just pick up the phone and call home,” said Classen. “It was either early morning for me or late night for them.”
Classen was lucky enough to have his parents and girlfriend make the hop across the icy Atlantic to visit for two weeks after Christmas.
“It was nice to have them visit,” Classen said. “It can get lonely over there when you’ve got 20 guys who don’t speak your language,” he added.
The one comfort the center had while overseas was the game itself.
“Hockey is hockey whether it’s here or [in Europe],” said Classen. “The game is a little bit more offensive, and guys take more chances.”
Playing in a more offensive game may have helped him prepare for the rule changes taking place in the leagues he was familiar with in North America.
“It’s similar to how pro hockey is over here now with the new rule changes,” said Classen. “There are a few more turnovers, but more scoring chances.”
Armed with new knowledge of a more offensive style of play, Classen happily returned to North America when the NHL lockout came to an end and was reunited with the Nashville Predators organization.
“I didn’t expect to be back with Nashville,” said Classen, “but they needed a guy and I was there.”
After NHL training camps ended before the start of the season, Classen was assigned by Nashville to the Milwaukee Admirals, the same team he had played for before he left for Finland and helped to capture the 2004 Calder Cup.
“The reason I came back here was to get back to the NHL… that’s the goal,” said Classen. “It’s my job to be playing at my top game."
Although he’s seemingly back where he started, Classen has a renewed outlook on his career now that he’s back in Milwaukee.
“I have to get a fresh start and get excited about playing hockey here again,” he said. “You never know what can happen. We’ve got a couple guys [in the NHL] right now and there are always injuries and call-ups,” he added.
Being back in the friendly surrounding of Milwaukee has helped Classen stay relaxed and concentrate on his game.
“At the start of the year it was nice to be back,” said Classen. “Milwaukee is a great city for professional sports. I’m definitely happy to be back, and it’s a great place to play.”
Now that his travels have come to a momentary standstill in Milwaukee, Classen has high expectations for himself and his Admirals teammates. After stumbling out of the gate, the Admirals have won 11 of 13 to bring their record to 11-5-0-1 on the season.
“There’s a great future for us,” said Classen, “I think we have a team to make a run again this year.”