After playing for eight teams over seven seasons in five countries, globe-trotting Mark Derlago will finally return to familiar territory this season.
The 28-year-old Brandon-born former Wheat Kings captain will play his second straight year of professional hockey in Denmark’s Elite League, moving from the Aalborg Pirates to the Esbjerg Energy for the 2014-15 season.
"I really like that league and I like the country a lot, I think it’s the most enjoyable country that we have been to," said Derlago, whose wife Jenna gave birth to their first daughter, Emery, in Denmark in April.
"It’s just a nice country. The weather there is nice, there is no language barrier, everyone speaks English, so it’s pretty nice ... You can make friends with everybody and just communicating in the dressing room, you can contribute instead of just nodding your head."
Derlago will join fellow former Wheat King Andrew Clark — a 26-year-old Brandonite who agreed to terms with the Danish team in April — in the Esbjerg lineup and will also have a friendly face behind the bench after signing a one-year contract with the club.
"It’s better (contract) terms and I know the coach (Mark Pederson) there, he coached me in Bakersfield in my first two years of pro (in the ECHL)," Derlago said. "And I know a couple of the imports there and one of them is Andrew Clark, too. So there is some familiarity there."
Derlago, a 5-foot-11, 200-pound left-winger who played three seasons with the Wheat Kings from 2003-2007, had a successful first year in the Danish league, with 25 goals and 49 points in 33 games before his season ended when he suffered a broken ankle in the first game of the playoffs back on March 9.
"I just kind of fell back and a guy landed on me wrong and I knew something was wrong right away," said Derlago, who is playing in the Wendy’s Summer Hockey League and the South West Baseball League this summer and expects to be fully healthy when Esbjerg’s training camp opens next month.
"It’s not quite there yet, but it’s getting there. I have a screw in my ankle that I have to get taken out before I go, but I have been skating and playing ball and everything, so it feels pretty good."
Now in his eighth season as a pro player, Derlago appreciates the opportunities that hockey continues to offer him, both on and off the ice.
"It’s a great way to see the world," he said. "It is a job, but at the same time it’s a lot of life experience as well and this is the first time we have gone back to a country. We like to switch it up, but we really enjoy Denmark. You get to see the different cultures and different countries and how differently they treat hockey. So it’s been great."