Former Brandon Wheat Kings captain Mark Derlago has played five seasons of pro hockey. (FILE)
Farther away from Brandon than he’d ever lived before, Mark Derlago proved that he was right at home on the ice in Germany this past season.
After four seasons of professional hockey in North America, the 26-year-old Brandonite made the jump to Europe and was the leading scorer for the Lausitzer Foxes in the Bundesliga, Germany’s second-highest pro tier.
"I think the hockey was pretty much the same, but the living and stuff like that was obviously a little different. The food and just the culture over there was a lot different from what we’re used to here, so that was the biggest transition," said Derlago, who had 22 goals and 22 assists in 48 games for the Foxes. "The hockey was the easy part.
"We were very far east (in) Germany in a very old city so not a lot of people spoke English, so you’d kinda have a lot of blank stares. It made for some pretty funny moments, but I enjoyed it and I got to pick up a few German words."
A former leading goal-scorer in the Western Hockey League with his hometown Wheat Kings, Derlago said communication was much easier in the dressing room where most of the players spoke English. A handful of Canadians on the roster, including Matt McKnight, Derlago’s former teammate with the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads, eased the culture shock in the Foxes’ home base of Weisswasser, a sleepy town of about 19,000 that came alive on game nights.
"You drive around the town and you wouldn’t think 500 people would live there," Derlago said. "But then Friday nights at the games it would be packed, with 3,000 people just chanting and dancing and just having a good time."
With Derlago, McKnight and Christopher Straube leading the way with 44 points each, the Foxes jumped from last place a year earlier into sixth, with a 25-14-4-5 record.
"I think at the start of the year we were projected to finish last by three of the four expert magazines or whatever they’ve got out there," Derlago said. "I think it was a pretty big success for the town and the team there that we finished sixth and made the playoffs. We lost out in the first round of the playoffs, but I think they’re pretty happy with how the season went there."
Derlago said he’s planning to cross the pond again after a summer at home playing baseball with the Cubs in the Brandon Senior AA league, but he expects to land with a new team.
"I’m planning on going back to Europe, but I’ll try a new team I think, a new city, maybe a new league," he said. "I’m really just weighing some options right now, but I definitely enjoyed the European experience."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 23, 2012