Have you ever wondered what it’s like to play professional hockey in Europe? After three seasons in the SPHL and ECHL, SFU Hockey alum James Isaacs found out first hand when he joined the Dundee Stars of the EIHL, the top league in Britain.
So how does a Victoria native end up playing Canada’s game overseas? It was a move more than a year in the making. The EIHL first came calling in 2013, but Isaacs had already committed to the Idaho Steelheads. After a trade to the Greenville Road Warriors, the Dundee Stars made another play for the d-man.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Isaacs said. “But I have always had wanderlust and the quality of living is better. It was a good chance to see the world and move my way up through the European leagues.”
The timing of the move was fortuitous; Isaacs and the Stars would go on to win their conference in the 2014 Gardiner Cup.
Moving to a winning team, Isaacs was quickly introduced to the European hockey scene, where smaller towns usually only have one team in the area, so when a player gets popular he can find it hard to walk down the street without getting recognized.
“Imagine football (soccer) fans at a hockey game,” explains Isaacs. “The games are very well attended and every player has their own chant for a goal or good play… People are very passionate about their team and will do anything to defend you against “chirps” from other teams fans, even if they’re wrong.”
The increased attention was only one change, however. North American players also have to adapt to the faster, less physical European style of hockey, played on a larger ice surface.
Isaacs explained some of the changes he faced as a defenseman, detailing how other players “have more time to see an opponent coming to avoid a body check… Defensemen in North America are able to pressure more quickly to take away the forwards time and space, but here however, if you pressure someone the same way you do in North America, you will get beat. It’s a much faster, but also more patient, style of play.”
Though he’s found success in the UK, Isaacs still has an eye on BC, where he won a BCIHL Championship with SFU, but rather than working on the ice, he’s been devoting his time to the launch of Hyve, a recently launched Vancouver based app that helps users discover events and daily specials happening close to them.
Isaacs has proven to be one of SFU Hockey’s most successful alumni, and we hope to share more stories of alumni success throughout the year.