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DANKE STAJ

By George Johnson - CalgaryFlames.com

Donning the official Eishockeyclub Red Bull München uniform - predominantly blue, the signature energy drink logo predominant on the jersey front - he looked right at home rather quickly.

Donning the official Oktoberfest uniform of traditional lederhosen - leather shorts, H-shaped suspenders and jaunty hat - well, perhaps not so much.

"Me? I could maybe - maybe, mind you - get into that get-up,'' joked Matt Stajan's 6-foot-4, 235-lb. pal Big Ern, Brian McGrattan, having seen the photos on Facebook and Twitter,"but I'm pretty sure I couldn't get out of it …"

 

 

Ah, Munich. Beating heart of Bavaria. The Glockenspiel im Rathausturm in Marienplatz. The BMW Museum. The open-air Viktalienmarkt for quirky shopping. Hofbräuhaus on the Platzl for a meal and a brew.

And, for 16 days every October, one of the planet's great parties.

"It was … incredible," reports Stajan, on a FaceTime chat eight hours in the future. "You don't really know what it's about until you experience the real Oktoberfest in Germany, in Munich. The place you want to be, for sure.

"They really do know how to have fun here.

"I don't really know how to explain it. It's kinda like the Stampede Grounds, the rides, vendors, a big walk-around. Then all the tents with all the big beer sponsors.

"The part inside the tents is so different. The lederhosen. Very formal. You have to sit down at the long tables, the servers coming around with all these big beers. The chanting. People standing on the table, having to chug a beer and if they don't finish they get pretzels thrown at them.

"You take the U-Bahn, the subway system, which is unbelievable, and you're there. You can go as a family or you can go with your buddies.

"Everything you hear about Oktoberfest? It's all that and more. As much as we try and replicate it in Canada, you can't. Just can't.

"I would highly recommend it to anyone."

 

 

The Stajans - Matt, wife Katie and the two kids, including newborn Dylan - are settling in to life in Munich. Home in the near future will be back here in Calgary, where they've set up shop and plan on returning.

Home for the next few months, however, is an apartment in Schwabing-West, close to the Munich downtown core, and professionally, for dad, the 6,526-seat Olympia Eishalle.

"The challenge for us as a family,'' says Stajan, "is to come here pretty much with a newborn and a three-year-old. You're so comfortable in Calgary, with the help we had, family, babysitters. Little things you kind of take for granted until you're over here, in a foreign country.

"There is English spoken here but maybe not as much as we'd thought. Thank God for Google Translator. But even that doesn't help you all the time."

So, how is the German coming along, anyway?

"Not very good. I couldn't hold a conversation but we're picking up words along the way. We know how to say good morning, good night, thank you.

"But the people here are very helpful. And the organization has been great in helping us transition."

If money was the sole aim of this overseas exercise, somewhere in the KHL would've been a more lucrative landing spot.
"We came,'' says Stajan emphatically, "for the experience."

Both sets of parents have visited, along with friends.

The Stajans have been helped in getting their bearings by a couple of old teammates, Keith Aulie and John Mitchell. Jason Jaffray, formerly Flames property, has chipped in, too.

 

 

Hockey-wise, things are good. Stajan has nine points, including five goals, though 14 league games so far.

"It's nice," he acknowledges, "taking a regular shift again. Playing over 15 minutes a night and some powerplay. That part has been great.

"I wanted to feel that again before I was done. I wanted to really enjoy playing the game in all situations, like you do when you're growing up.

"That's another big reason why I wanted to do this."

One of the most decorated of Deutsche Eishockey Liga franchises, Red Bull is riding a three-championship win streak at present, coached by ex-Oiler defenceman Don Jackson, a frequent dance partner of Jim Peplinski's back in the formative Battle of Alberta days.

Any destination longer than four hours by bus, the team flies to. They're also involved in Champions League fixtures, having already visited Sweden and due to travel to Switzerland in the near future.

"I'm not home every night,'' says Stajan, "but compared to the NHL, I'm home at lot more, which is definitely nice."

Red Bull sports a 10-4 league record this season, most recently a 2-0 victory over the Augsburger Panthers on Friday.

"There's an adjustment, for sure,'' Stajan acknowledges. "Way more skating. You don't think about that with the Olympic-sized ice but the game is more wide-open so you are skating more. To create, you have to.

"And the system our team plays is very aggressive. We have D pinching down the wall on every forecheck so the centreman's got to get back.

"You hear about coming to Europe, how teams play like soccer, always want control and never dump pucks in. Yeah, we played a Swedish team with that style. But with our style, you've got to get your skating legs going.

"It's completely different. I guess the best comparison I can think of is: You see guys have success in the NFL, then they come to the CFL and struggle, need an adjustment period, because of how the two games are played.

"But I'm finding my way.

"It's competitive here. There are no easy games. People in North America might think: 'Oh, there's a big drop-off.' Maybe the high-end talent of the NHL is better but as a whole this league, in my opinion, is a little bit under-appreciated.

"The goal is always to win a championship. That's what we play for, wherever we play. And I play on a team that's had so much success recently."

After scoring twice in a home game earlier in the season, including the overtime winner, the 15-season/two-franchise NHLer was selected by Red Bull fans to lead a traditional on-ice victory chant. Footage of the moment certainly made the rounds down at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

"In the morning we see the NHL highlights and now Carolina's doing something different after games at home," he muses. "In North America, the NHL, that's big news.

"Here, it's every game. You always salute the crowd. And you line up to shake hands after every game, which is different. But after big wins, OT wins or rivalry wins - derby matches - the supporter section picks a player of the game and then our captain gets a signal as to who it is and he's the one to lead the chant.

 "That's what you guys saw on the video.

"I had no clue. I was just trying to repeat what was being said to me. I couldn't read it, either, so it must've seemed a bit broken. But it was a lot of fun.

"That's one of the experiences you don't get in North America. And it was just Game 10 of the regular season."

During the latter part of his tenure in this town, Stajan ranked among the most popular of Flames, became much more than merely the last link to the Dion Phaneuf trade with the Leafs back in 2010.

For his professionalism, perseverance, ability to adjust to what was asked of him, he and Katie's community commitment and both the sadness and joy the family experienced in shifting and building their life here, a unique emotional bond was formed.

That connection hasn't been broken, even now, 7,800 kilometres away.

Born in Ontario, he'll always in a sense belong to Calgary, even as he puts a capper on a long career in Germany.
"Coming here to Calgary,'' he told calgaryflames.com preparing to leave for Munich, "this became home."

Often it's said that North Americans live to work, Europeans work to live.

 

 

"The way people live their lives is just … different here," he says. "But that's true of any two places. Calgary was different from Toronto.

"The people here are so laid back. No one seems to be in rush, snapping a finger to get things done. Go at your pace. Relax. Have coffee and cake at a cafe.

"It's what works for them.

"And we've enjoyed getting to experience it.

"As hard as it might seem at times, this is a period in our life we'll look back on and value."

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