From Austria With Love
After more than a decade plying his trade across North America and Europe, Austrian netminder Bernd Brückler is enjoying life back on home soil.
Brückler re-signed with EC Red Bull Salzburg in the summer, having joined the club in 2012, but has enjoyed stints in the NCAA, ECHL, SM-Liiga and KHL in a career that also saw him drafted by Philadelphia in 2001, win a World Championship gold medal and write a book.
Now 32, the Graz native couldn’t be happier to be back in his native land.
“It’s wonderful, and it’s like coming full circle again. I’m here with my wife Veera and our three children, Ella (3), Niklas (2) and our newborn baby boy Philip. My family loves it and after a long time gone I get to spend some quality time with my own family and friends.”
An often under appreciated aspect of the sport; playing away from home is not always easy. Some take to it more easily than others, but Brückler makes no hesitation in recommending other young players take the chance to pursue a career in North America.
“I would most definitely encourage young, aspiring hockey players from Europe to pursue their dreams, and to go to North America and give it a shot.”
What was the catalyst for Brückler’s own journey? Simply put – one great experience as a young man.
“After having played in the famous Pee Wee tournament in Quebec City in 1995, it was clear to me that I had to go to North America to further my hockey career.”
As a young netminder from one of the games smaller nations, the road is not always simple – but Brückler was quick to praise two major influences on his career, as he tried to realise his dream of playing in North America.
“Many people had a strong influence on my career, but my father sticks out. He was always supportive, and believed in me like nobody else did.”
“As for going to North America – I’m glad that my former coach, Leigh Mendelson, gave me a chance and set up the right contacts for playing junior hockey in the USHL, for the Tri-City Storm.”
Brückler spent a year with Tri-City before being drafted 150th overall by the Flyers, but spent the next four seasons with the NCAA University of Wisconsin – securing a First All-American Team berth during the 2003/04 season.
Following his collegiate career, Brückler spent time with Toledo and Charlotte in the ECHL during the 2005/06 season, as well playing in 6 games in the AHL for Hartford, before settling in with Finnish outfit Espoo Blues.
He stayed with the Blues for three further seasons, giving him direct insight in to the oft talked about difference between the North American game and the European game.
Often referred to as a more finesse based style, Brückler found that, despite some differences, the SM-Liiga wasn’t quite so far removed from the style of play he’d seen in North America.
“There is certainly a big difference in play between all the leagues I have played in. However, the Finnish SM-Liiga is closest to the North American Pro leagues because it’s very physical.”
Brückler won a SM-Liiga silver medal with the Blues in 2008, and World Championship gold as he helped Austria earn promotion from Division 1A, and spent one more year in Finland before joining Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod of the Kontinental Hockey League.
“I had heard that the KHL is an amazing level of hockey and even higher than the Finnish league, so of course I was interested. In addition, the kind of money the teams were offering was hard to pass down.”
A second year with Torpedo followed, before Brückler moved to Sibir Novosibirsk in 2011; and his experiences in one of the most talked about leagues in the world led to the publication of his book ‘This is Russia: Life in the KHL – Doctors, bazas and millions of air miles’.
“Many people have heard stories about the KHL, life in Russia or some other small detail. I lived in that huge country for over three years and I saw it all with my own eyes. From the training camps, medical treatments, the corruption, the money, the Russian lifestyle all the way to getting fired Russian style.”
“I wanted to document that and give people in the Western world a better idea of what life is like in the KHL. That being said, despite some difficulties, I had a wonderful experience in Russia.”
Now back in Austria, Brückler is hoping to backstop Salzburg to another EBEL title – but his career may already go down as one of the most varied and interesting of any European netminders.
You can buy Brückler’s book ‘This is Russia: Life in the KHL – Doctors, bazas and millions of air miles’ now from Amazon.
You can also follow him on Twitter: Brucks30.
Many thanks to Bernd for his time.