It’s day ten of training camp in Maribor, Slovenia and it has been tough, to say the least. Coach has been putting us through the grinders with two a days that make my past NHL camps look like walks in the park. Today something hit me: fifty-five years ago, my Dida (Grandfather) snuck out of Yugoslavia, through the same hills we are training on, to bring his family to Canada. Dida died when I was seven months old and to be honest I know very little about him. Growing up my Dad would tell me about what type of man his Father was and speak of his character. My Mother enjoyed recanting stories of how she helped my Grandfather work around the house and how he loved working with her because she worked hard and did not talk to much. My Grandmother always tells me how she misses him and how she can not believe he has been gone so long. I needed to know more, so I called my Grandmother to learn about my Dida’s journey to Canada. At that time Croatia was a part of socialist Yugoslavia and under communist control. Dida was twenty-nine years old and lived in Požega with his wife and two boys, the youngest being my Father. Dida was an extremely serious and hard working man. His two boys still remember the intense stare he would give them when he disapproved of something they did. In 1956, for economic reasons, Dida felt it would be best for his family if they moved somewhere new. At that time Yugoslavian citizens were not allowed to leave the country so he had to sneak out. Dida joined a small group of men who left their families and headed for Slovenia, where they met up with other Yugoslavs who were looking to leave. In the dark of the night they made there way across the Austrian border without the Yugoslav army seeing them, and voluntarily checked into an Austrian refugee camp. Austrian refugee camps were not desirable places to be. They were overcrowded and had undesirable living conditions, to say the least. Dida spent over eight months in these camps. Some of the men Dida became friends with at these camps are still family friends today.
At that time Canada was looking for foreign workers. Dida had heard about life in Canada through his Father and when Canada offered him a new start he took it. He made the journey across the Atlantic ocean on a boat which landed in New Brunswick. He and the other refugees boarded a train heading to the prairies (that is where Canada was sending laborers at the time) but when the train passed through Toronto he got off. His Father was there waiting for him and helped get him a job. After a few months he was able to apply for his family to come over. After more than one year apart they were reunited in Canada. Now fast forward fifty-five years and my career has taken me in the other direction, from Canada back to Croatia. My journey is certainly not as dramatic as Dida’s but if you think about it, I am over here playing for some of the same reasons my Dida left years ago. I am here because this is where I feel it is best for my career, I am here because this is the best place for my family and I am here because I feel a connection to this country. My Dida left to give his family opportunity, and ironically, that opportunity given to me has led me back to Croatia.
Camp has been hard but the next time I feel like complaining about going back on the ice for the second practice of the day, I am going sit back and think about what my Dida did at my age for his family, and put things in perspective. So Coach if you want to do three-a-days, bring it on, I can handle it!