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Simpson one of many Canadians to spend a career in pro hockey overseas

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What started out as an adventure has turned into Sean Simpson's life.

After spending a couple years in the American Hockey League, he figured he'd try playing in Europe. More than two decades later and now working as a head coach, he's still there.

"I came over as a 23-year-old and I've been here for 25 years in a row," Simpson said recently from his home in Switzerland.

The native of Brampton, Ont., coaches EV Zug in the Swiss Elite League and is one of many Canadians who have built a professional hockey career overseas.

Simpson had no reason to believe his move to a team in Holland in 1983 would see him stay in Europe for much of his professional life, but he's found no reason to leave the continent since.

"The people that play here and work here and have been here for a long time, we really love it," said Simpson. "It's a great place to be - the people are very nice to us.

"It's where we make our living so we feel very fortunate to be here."

Regular trips back to Canada certainly help.

Simpson has made it back every summer since he first moved abroad along with his Canadian-born wife. They stay in Burlington, Ont., in the off-season.

"I feel I need it and our family needs it," said Simpson.

Now that their daughter Rachel is heading into her teenage years, the summer stays will be getting shorter.

Simpson is currently on his second stint in Zug, where he coached the team to the Swiss title in 1998. He's also spent time playing and coaching in Germany - among other places.

The 47-year-old will be the Canadian head coach at the Spengler Cup this winter. He's served as an assistant for that event five times in the past, including being part of Pat Quinn's staff last year.

Spending the holidays in the resort town of Davos, Switzerland, is something the Canadian expatriate loves to do.

"The Spengler Cup is great because you get a chance to spend Christmas with another 100 or so Canadians overseas," said Simpson. "It's a wonderful experience. My daughter can't wait to go back."

The most unusual place hockey has probably taken Simpson is Belarus. He's been an assistant coach on that country's team during the past two IIHF World Hockey Championships.

He worked under Washington Capitals coach Glen Hanlon at the 2006 event in Latvia and under former Atlanta Thrashers coach Curt Fraser last spring in Russia.

The job involved spending a couple weeks in Belarus for a training camp each year. That country's hockey federation is hoping a Canadian coaching staff can help get the team among the world's best.

"They've really gone outside the box there a little bit, getting away from the old Russian school," said Simpson. "Nothing against the Russian schooling, but it's a change to bring in a North American element and work ethic and attitude.

"These guys used to practise three times a day . . . We treat them like the professionals and men they are."

Fraser will again coach Belarus next year when the world championship is played in Quebec City and Halifax, but Simpson doesn't know if he'll be along for the ride.

He's hoping it happens for two reasons - one, he'd love to coach in Canada and two, he loves the event.

"For me the last two world championships - with two NHL coaches - has been like a development class," said Simpson. "And I like to think I can add a little bit from my European experience."

Hockey has given him more than his share of great experiences.

Simpson played his junior hockey in Ottawa and was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the seventh round of the 1980 draft. He never played a game in the NHL, but he's carved out quite a hockey career.

"It's been great," said Simpson. "It's awesome. The coaching side has really worked out good - I'm fortunate that way."

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