Graeme McCormack has called many different places “home” during his amateur hockey career. Come this autumn, as he enters the professional ranks on a full-time basis, he will add a new locality that he has never even called a vacation spot.
After beginning in his native province of Ontario, he spent three years in British Columbia for junior hockey. For the last four years, his “home” has been in northern Minnesota, where he played for the Bemidji State Beavers.
However, now that his college career is over, McCormack is moving on to the next stop in his hockey journey. Unlike past stops, which have all been in North America, he will play his first professional season with Sparta Sarpsborg in Norway.
First taste of professional hockey
After the Beavers’ season came to an end, McCormack signed an amateur tryout pact with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the AHL. Despite playing just one game with the team, he valued the experience, as he recounted to Along the Boards in a phone interview.
“It was a great experience, just to step into the pro ranks and see how everyone conducts themselves and see how a pro organization operates,” he said. “The hockey itself was great. It was a different style of hockey than college, what I was used to, but it was really good. The players in the league were exceptional, and it was just a really great experience overall.”
Looking ahead to his first full season, the professional experience in the AHL will certainly help. But McCormack will face numerous cultural differences, both on and off the ice, playing overseas.
One resource that is bound to help him adjust is a former Beavers teammate, Jeff Jubinville. The two spent two years together on the Beavers, and Jubinville went on to play for Sparta Sarpsborg this past season, scoring 48 points in 36 games. McCormack already spoke with him about what to expect while playing in Norway.
“I talked to Jeff a little bit about the style of hockey,” he said. “It’s definitely less hitting, it’s slower and the ice is bigger, so there’s more room to make plays and stuff like that.
“He just told me it was basically skating and skill-based. You have to move the puck, you have to move your feet at all times or else you won’t be effective over there.”
‘It’s definitely going to be an eye-opener’
The style of play will be an adjustment, but McCormack is confident he will be assimilate on the ice and contribute to his new team’s success. Off the ice, though, McCormack will have to get used to living in a completely different culture.
Admitting that he has never been to Europe before, he offered, “It’s definitely going to be an eye-opener. It’s just little things like how the fans treat the players, or how you conduct your everyday life. Like going out and getting a meal or driving from place to place; it’ll be different.
“But it’s exciting, I’m not going to China or something like that. It’s going to be a place where a lot of people speak English, I’ve been told. So the transition is not going to be be too crazy, but it will definitely be an eye-opener.”
The language barrier is something that he will need to overcome. McCormack explained that he was going to invest in an app on his phone to help with translation. He also hopes to learn the language not only for hockey, but for everyday life. He believes his coach, native Swede Lenny Eriksson, is bilingual, which will certainly help.
He also noted that “In terms of drawing up plays, they do that on the white boards. X’s and O’s. It’s pretty much universal.”
McCormack had several opportunities to start off his professional career in North America. However, he considered a number of factors in his decision, and playing overseas in Norway was an attractive option.
“For me, it was looking at things like playing time, development and how am I going to grow as a player,” he said. “Then you have to look at dollars and cents; it has to be attractive in that way too.
“For me, right now, it’s about being in the best position where I can develop and have a good stable environment where I can earn a living for myself and develop as a player.”
‘…ready to jump into the pro ranks…’
McCormack thinks that he and Sparta will be a good match, and knows that the team will have expectations of him coming into the season. Through his preparation in the offseason, he is prepared to meet them.
“I want to get over there and I want to contribute,” he said. “I want to help my team win a championship. That’s the expectation of bringing in imports, is that they contribute a great deal to the team. There’s going to be things expected of me when I go over there. Through training, a good diet, lots of skating and skill work I’m going to hopefully deliver on that.”
The adjustment from lower levels of hockey to the pros can be difficult. However, McCormack feels that he is prepared for the next level thanks to his time spent playing college hockey at Bemidji State.
“In college you learn how to manage your time and your efforts,” he said. “You have to train in the morning and then practice and then go to school and go back to practice. You really grow up and learn a level of professionalism that goes along with hockey and how to conduct yourself. It teaches you how to handle big stages: playing in front of 15,000 fans, or preparing for a game, whether it’s through video or different types of practices. You basically play pro hockey on a college scale, and I’m really thankful for that. I think I’m ready to jump into the pro ranks and have all those tools.”