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October 24, 2002 Wilkommen! Hockey Stingers treated like kings in Germany





by John Austen

When Kevin Figsby took over the men’s hockey team at Concordia three years ago, he vowed to restore pride and tradition to the program. Getting the alumni more involved and instituting a Wall of Fame to honour past greats of Loyola, Sir George and Concordia hockey squads was just part of what he had in mind — and then there were the trips to Europe!

“Concordia used to have a tradition of sending teams overseas for a couple of weeks but it had stopped,” Figsby said. “When we took over we asked the players what they wanted to do, and almost all of them said they wanted to go to Europe.”

Figsby is a man of his word. On Dec. 29, the Concordia Stingers travelled to Germany for 10 days of bonding, culture and — oh, yes — hockey.

The entourage of 31 people were treated like royalty from the moment they stepped off the plane in Frankfurt.

“We kept looking at each other, wondering how things could get any more perfect for us,” Figsby said.

“Every day just got better and better. After one game, it took us three hours to leave the arena because the fans crammed our dressing room wanting our autographs. It was as if the Stones had arrived in town.”

The Stingers played four games and held two practices during their 10-day stay. They played to sellout crowds across the country and were hounded for autographs at the rink, on the street and in the hotel. Chants of CANADA! CANADA! cascaded down on them in every arena they played in.

“This is my seventh such trip to Europe, but my first time in Germany,” said Figsby. “It was a fantastic experience. Our players were great ambassadors for both their school and their country. I didn’t hear a negative word from anyone throughout the trip.”

The Stingers knew they were in for something special when more than 200 people showed up just to watch their opening practice in Darmstedt, a town outside of Frankfurt. A day later, Concordia played its first game against the Darnstedt Stars and whipped their hosts 12-3 before a sellout crowd of 1,500 people.

Then it was on to Herford, where they played to another sellout crowd of 2,000 on New Year’s Eve day. They lost this game 10-8, but no one seemed to mind. Later that night, it was on to a rented hall where their hosts held New Year’s Eve celebrations.

“In Germany, it’s a custom at midnight for families to go outside and light fireworks” said Figsby, “so here we were, a group of Canadian hockey players watching the fireworks and singing O Canada at the top of our lungs. It was a moment we’ll never forget.”

Figsby says an incident in Herford summed up the trip. “I was by myself in the shopping district of Herford which is much like Old Montreal without the cars,” he recalled. “It’s pouring rain and I’m sopping wet.

“Suddenly I hear this little voice from across the street saying ‘Coach from Canada! Coach from Canada!’ It’s a little German lady, and she’s waving her arms at me. ‘Come with me. I’ve called my father and he will come pick you up and take you back to your hotel.’

“Sure enough, this stretch Mercedes pulls up and in we get. Turns out he’s a high court judge who had taken his family to our game the night before. He had brought a big Canadian flag with him to the game to make us feel welcome. This type of thing just doesn’t happen every day.”

The Stingers also played games in Halle (a 4-4 tie in front of 5,000 fans) and Baden Baden (an 8-2 win).

The players and coaches visited museums, Martin Luther University, a chocolate factory, and the church where Handel first learned to play the piano.

The trip cost a total of $50,000. Each player contributed $500 to the cause, while the rest was raised through fundraising and donations.

“It’s a lot of work to plan a trip like this,” Figsby said. “All the memories make it worth it, though. It will be hard to top that trip.”