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Former Flame McGrattan enjoying life overseas

Brian McGrattan signed a two-year contract with the Nottingham Panthers of the EIHL

by Aaron Vickers @AAVickers /

CALGARY, AB -- Same game on the ice. 
Same language off it. 
Not much is throwing new Nottingham Panthers forward Brian McGrattan. 
Only one thing, really.
"I still haven't tackled the driving yet," said McGrattan, two weeks into his tour in the Elite Ice Hockey League.
"I'm going to get a car this week. It's going to be my next challenge: driving.

"They're deceiving in size. They're Fiats. They're tiny. But once you get in them it's not that bad. 
"I'm getting a car some time this week. We've got a handful of British guys on the team. They're going to take me on a tutorial sometime this week."
Everything else has been gravy, to this point, for the former Calgary Flames folk hero. 
At 35, and without any interest in returning to the American Hockey League circuit, the longtime National Hockey League heavyweight started weighing options. 
Cleary a no. 
"The league is awful … some of those towns, you get stuck in them for eight months a year and some of those places are the worst places on Earth," he said.
Clearly not an option.
"I'm not going to play in the NHL again," he said.
Clearly a pass.
"You know, I mean … the word is pretty much out on that now. Having a young family, it's not something I was too keen on doing," he said.
"Out of the blue, the coach here called me," recounted McGrattan. "The coach called me a couple times and we chatted. He wanted my agent's number. They talked. Being in England, it's exactly like being back home in Canada. Everything is the same here as it is back home. I can have my wife and kid here and not have to worry about them when I'm not around. 
"I signed a two-year contract here. There's a little bit of stability, which I usually don't have. It's a chance to come play and relax and enjoy England. 
"I wanted to explore and play in different places while I still had the opportunity to play. I get to play in another country now. That's what I wanted to do. I've played so long. I want hockey to work for me. 
"I want it to take me to different places to experience different things. 
"You can't play forever. Having the opportunity to explore different countries and different cultures and have the chance to play … I really wanted it.
"The more I sat around and thought about it all summer; that's the decision I came to."
It's been the right one for the man affectionately known as 'Big Ern.' 
He's settled in. 
And happy with the choice. 
"When you go to a new place you always wonder what it's going to be like, what the hockey is going to be like, and what the coaches are going to be like," he said. 
"Honestly, it's been so much fun. And I've only been here two weeks.
"We have a tournament in Spain next week, so we're going to Spain next week. If we advance through that round in the middle of November we go to a tournament in Denmark. 
"Getting to experience … I never would've thought I'd go to Spain to play hockey. I get the chance to do that.
"I'm just looking forward to having a really fun couple of years here."
A refreshing couple of years, too. 
McGrattan, who logged 317 skates with the Flames, Nashville Predators and Ottawa Senators, and an additional 336 in the AHL over the course of his 14-year professional career, is happy to be out of the grind. 
No pressure above him. 
No pressure below him. 
No pressure beside him. 
Just hockey.
"Playing in North America and playing in the NHL and the American League … the pressure is always there," McGrattan said. "So many guys are so wound up. Sometimes it's not enjoyable because when you play in the minors, different guys are trying to get ahead of everybody. 
"Sometimes it's not great to be around. I've been around it for so long, the stressful environment. 
"Now I can come back and, not necessarily relax … but it's such a different feel over here. Guys aren't competing against each other to jump ahead. Everybody just wants to win. Everybody plays every night. 
"The atmosphere around the rink here is so much different from what I'm used to."
In more ways than one. 
The atmosphere in the dressing room is a refreshing change for one of hockey's last true pugilists. 
His on-ice experience has caught him off guard, too. 
"It's loud," McGrattan said. 
"They cheer all game and chant … flags … the atmosphere is definitely a little different from what I'm used to. They don't chant all game at an NHL game or an American league game … some teams are lucky if they get 200 people at a game. 
"Here it's loud every night … different chants. It's pretty cool.
"My first game I played I got a standing ovation by 7000 people. My hair was standing up. 
"Guys were just going out (for pre-game introductions) and fans were cheering. It wasn't crazy loud. 
"Then when I went out it erupted. It was one of the coolest parts of my career. 
"I'm not going to lie. It was really cool. I'm just looking forward to playing in front of that every home game.
"It's a hockey-crazy city. It's mind-boggling. We're in the middle of England in a hockey hotbed."
For two years. 
Maybe three, depending on how much fun McGrattan has. 
It could be four if his first two weeks are any indication.
Regardless, though. 
It'll be on his terms.
"I want to go out on top where I'm having fun again, like when I was a kid," he said. "I want to leave … I don't want to leave the game on a sour note. 
"I want to go out on my time … not some NHL GM pushing me out and certain people pushing me out and leaving this game with a bitter taste in my mouth because I didn't get my last chance. 
"Now I can play here. When I decide to call it, I'll call it. I can go out having fun like I was a kid again.  
"It's going to be a pretty fun two years. 
"In two years if I want to stay for a third maybe I can do that. We'll see. 
"We'll see how it goes."

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