With the lockout looking like it could go on for a while I thought I would share an interesting story from my time in Hungary last lockout. I went over there in January with my cousin and great friend Rob Niedermayer. It was great to play in an organized league after so many months of just waiting around.
We had a great time there and we were treated incredibly well. I have many great stories from our time in Hungary but I will start with this one because it is something I don’t think I will see again!
Our team, Ferencvaros, is an old club with a lot of history. We both loved the history of the club and the green and white colored jerseys. During the time of communism in Hungary, Ferencvaros was known as the team that went against the state. For that reason, they had and still do have many, many die hard supporters.
We would typically practice in the evening because many of our teammates were in school or had other jobs during the day. There was a very nice rink that we would use for ice times and we had never had an issue before but on this particular day right away we could tell it wouldn’t be business as usual.
We arrived at the rink ready to go when one of our team mates told us the ice was doubled booked. At times the message would get lost in translation but basically there was some disagreement between the rink and our club so they gave our ice time to a bunch of recreational league players. It didn’t look like we would be practicing.
Our coach, a Russian guy, who spoke about as much English as I do Russian wouldn’t accept that decision. He decided we were still going to practice. So we all got dressed and went out on to the ice with rec leaguers. They were playing shinny and we started to do our regular practice. Talk about having to keep your head up! It was crazy out there. Players going in every possible direction.
The rec leaguers were really cool about it and many were big fans of our team. After a while they said they were going to leave so we could practice for real. Very cool move by them. But this is when everything went sideways!
The rink manager called the police to come and kick us off the ice. Four policemen showed up. They walked around to the bench and from their arm gestures I could tell they wanted us to get off the ice. Our coach said to keep practicing. The police starting yelling and were getting quite upset.
After about ten minutes our assistant coach went over to talk with them. He was a pretty calm guy but after about one minute his discussion with the police exploded into yelling! The police then grabbed on to him and were trying to pull him into the bench!
Our whole team rushes over to the bench to help our assistant coach out. It turns into a tug-o-war for out coach between the four policeman and our players. Back and forth our poor coach goes. Finally one of our guys decides to put an end to it. He slashes one of cops on the head!!! Bam!
The tone of the negotiations takes a dramatic turn into negative territory after the slash! The cops let go of our coach, they get on their radios call for back up and our head coach decides now is a good time for practice to end!
Rob and I have mainly been watching all this happen but we now decide it is time to get out of here. Fast! We get into the dressing rooms, throw our gear off and run into the showers. All I can think of is being thrown into a jail cell in a foreign country, not my idea of a good time.
(Photo: Jakob Sigurdsson/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 2.0)
As we are having a quick shower, in walk a bunch of police in full riot gear! I am naked in the shower and a cop in full riot gear is yelling at me in Hungarian to get out. I didn’t like my chances if a donnybrook broke out so I went right into the locker room.
I am sitting in the locker room with only a towel on with all my teammmates and at least twenty police in full riot gear wanting to know who slashed their guy. We are all told no one is leaving until the guilty player is found. If not, we are all going down to the police station were we will remain in custody until this gets sorted out.
At that moment I was getting a little nervous. If I could have spoken Hungarian I would have squealed like a pig and pointed the finger. Yes, I would have become a rat!
But I couldn’t so I sat there freezing and more than a little uncomfortable. They came around asking for our license and passports. Both Rob and I lied saying we didn’t have them here. I wasn’t going to give those up, I didn’t know if I’d get it back.
There we sat for over two hours until our team president was able to sort it all out. Cooler heads prevailed in the end and we were all allowed to go without the guilty player being discovered.
Of course as part of the deal we were not allowed to return to that rink again, which made sense. We started to practice outside which was awesome. Rob and I both loved it, we even played a game outside which is one of my best hockey memories.
I often wonder if Ferencvaros ever worked out a deal to get back into that rink. I hope they did. It was a pretty crazy day but a story I will be telling my great grandkids. I guess the lesson to be learned from this is ‘don’t slash cops.’