Going Dutch: An Austinite’s Experience with Senior Travel Hockey in the Netherlands

In the Dutch senior league, road trips and train rides are the norm, sending amateur players all over the country for competitive matches


[Ed. Note: While discussing the Austin hockey leagues’ coronavirus remediation plans, I learned that a former member of our Austin hockey community had moved to the Netherlands. Jeremy Derr, who was a player and an official at Chaparral and the Pond, has been in Amsterdam for three years, and the hockey experience there is significantly different from what we know over here. So I asked him to write about it…]
I slumped back against the wall in the locker room. So much had gone wrong tonight, and we’d headed to the locker room at the end of the second period down 14-0. I’d driven two and a half hours across the Netherlands to a beautiful facility in Eindhoven, having not played a competitive game in about eighteen months, and got thrashed. I hadn’t even realized until about halfway through the first period that we were playing legit, 20-minute stop-time periods — the clock counted up, like you see in the Olympics. But at least the mercy rule had kicked in, and we’d been sent to the locker room. I started tearing off my gear in silence.
I was halfway done when a teammate broke the silence in Dutch, which I still did not speak well. I got the basic gist: “So, what will we change for the third period?”
And then it dawned on me. We hadn’t been mercy ruled; it’s just normal here to zam the ice after the second period. I started hastily gearing back up and finished just in time to step back out onto the ice for the final period. Our luck would not improve, and we would drive back home, the same two and a half hours, with a 19-0 loss under our belts.
This was my first experience in the Dutch senior travel hockey league.

Going Dutch
In late 2017, my family and I packed up shop in Austin and headed for Europe, settling just outside of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Austin had brought me back to hockey after a very, very long absence. In early 2009, I signed up as one of the very first Texas Stars Season Ticket Holders. After a couple of seasons, ice fever set in fully, and I joined the C2 League at Chaparral Ice in the spring of 2012. As a goalie, I had played on a regional all-star roller hockey team in my teens and borrowed some gear to play ice hockey for a half-season in Dallas in college, but now I would play as a skater for the first time.


The Austin amateur hockey community is tight knit and raucous. The camaraderie is legendary. Hockey was exploding in Austin when I joined up and, while we lost one rink, we soon gained another. I would go on to play at least 200 games split between the lower C2 and the higher C1 leagues at both Chaparral Ice and the Pond Hockey Club, and referee hundreds more over the years. Hockey is played every night, all week, year-round in Austin, so if you have the time and the budget, you have plenty of opportunity to get into the sport. While there are some slots for practice, the overwhelming majority of ice time is taken up by league matches.




To play ice hockey, you simply walk into one of the rinks, plop down some money, and you wind up drafted onto a local team at your skill level. The teams are partially redrafted each season, so after a few seasons you’ll have played both with and against just about everyone of your skill level. 
Leagues range in skill from AA, with players who have played very high level competitive hockey , all the way down to C2 players who often learned how to play as adults. I spent most of my Austin career playing C1, where many of the players graduated up from C2 or played organized youth hockey but not usually at any sort of “elite” level.
The last thing to know is that due to the number of games played and number of players available, adult ice hockey games in Austin are scheduled to fit into an hour time slot. As a result, the matches are usually played in thirteen minute periods with about two minutes between periods. It’s typical to have between ten and fifteen players on a team each night, and usually closer to ten. It’s common for teams to show up with only eight or nine.
I was quite keen to continue playing as we prepared for our relocation to the Netherlands, but I couldn’t find any organizations similar to this - not just in Amsterdam, but really anywhere in the country. The only ice hockey I could find was Nederlandse IJshockeybond, the national senior hockey circuit. That seemed a bit over my pay grade, so I sold my hockey gear before we moved and sadly figured that my hockey career was largely over.
I was more than a little wrong.
As we settled into our new Dutch life, I missed hockey more and more. After a deep freeze rolled through Europe in March 2018, I had the opportunity to skate on a nearby lake, and the ice fever set in once again. I got back on the trail and finally found some YouTube footage from several teams from around the country and decided that the national competition was not so far out of my league as I’d feared. I fired off emails to several of the clubs near me and heard back almost immediately from the closest - the Amsterdam Tigers - who were looking to add a new team to the 5th Division for the upcoming season.
IJshockey Nederland
IJshockey Nederland is the equivalent to USA Hockey or Hockey Canada here, responsible for all of the ice hockey played in the country. While IJshockey Nederland doesn’t sanction any sort of “beer league,” it does sanction six tiers of senior hockey (the top tier being a full-check competition), a women’s competition, five youth divisions, and a national college students’ competition.
The federation is composed of ice hockey clubs from each major city in the country and each club can enter as many teams into the competition scheme as they wish. At present, there are 18 clubs which field 76 senior teams, plus generally one or two youth teams in each age bracket. In senior leagues, divisions 2 through 6 are subject to promotion and relegation just like you see in most European soccer leagues. As a result, you often see multiple teams from the same club in the same division!
Hockey gear on the train

Matches are played on weekends at facilities featuring full Olympic-sized hockey rinks. Some rinks, such as the ones in The Hague, Eindhoven, Heerenveen, and Tilburg, are strikingly modern architectural wonders, where you can imagine an AHL team taking up residence. Others, such as Amsterdam’s Jaap Edenhal, are historic but outdated facilities, desperate for renovation. A few are even simple temporary rinks set up inside the local speed skating ovals, as you’ll find in Hoorn and Breda.
League matches follow IIHF rules, including full length 20-minute stop-time periods. The players return to their locker rooms in the second intermission while the ice is cleaned. There is no overtime or shootout, so you may well travel three hours across the country and play sixty minutes of brutal hockey, only to have to drive three hours back with a tie.
The Amsterdam Tigers
In 2017-18, the Amsterdam club fielded five teams and had fostered a recreational team that had developed enough to consider entering the competition themselves - just as I arrived in town. I made contact with the club right at the end of the 2017-18 season and attended a couple of practices with the recreational team and two friendly matches against neighboring cities. As many of the players were new to the sport, I was one of the more experienced players in the group.
Officials don't seem to have a dress code.
We organized and entered the 5th Division for the 2018-19 season. Our opponents would be in Eindhoven, Den Bosch, The Hague, Groningen, Dordrecht, Alkmaar, Zoetermeer, and Breda, with a 16-game schedule - home and away against each opponent. Rather than playing against a bunch of other teams from the Amsterdam area, as I was accustomed to do, we would be traveling all across the Netherlands.
That’s right: it’s senior travel hockey.

While competitions are held solely on the weekends, the ice is used all week long. Each team has at least one practice session during the week. Because ice time is at a premium, these practices are often quite late. My new team practices on Thursday nights in Amsterdam at 10:30pm and optionally on Tuesdays at 9:30pm in another city nearly an hour away. Amsterdam is further north than Winnipeg, so these late practices can be quite bothersome in the winter. In December,  it will have been dark for over five hours by the time we get to the rink.
Top Flight Hockey in the Netherlands
Top flight hockey here is a treacherous landscape. The Eerste Divisie - First Division - is the top level of amateur hockey in the country with most of the clubs placing a team. Despite being amateur senior hockey, this is a full-check league. Teams have boosters who follow them around, and player movement between teams and selections of players graduating from the youth teams are highly followed events.
The top club is arguably the Tilburg Trappers. They are one of the few clubs in the country with a professional team. Their top pro squad plays in the German third-tier Oberliga, where they have won several championships but have been denied promotion to higher tiers on technical grounds. They also have a second pro squad that plays in the BeNe League, a professional league that spans both Belgium and the Netherlands.

The Dutch clubs in the BeNe League, in addition to fighting for that league’s championship, also compete in a concurrent competition to determine the championship of the Netherlands - the Bekercompetitie.
In recent years, the city of Heerenveen has hosted the preseason Thialf Cup between a Dutch team and several German teams. This past fall, I traveled to Heerenveen for this because one of the German teams playing was the Fischtown Pinguins - giving me the opportunity to see none other than long-time Texas Stars captain Maxime Fortunus on the ice once again.
Dutch Hockey in the Coronavirus Era
Hockey came to an unceremonious end in early March here, just as it did in most of the world. The BeNe League unceremoniously ended its season and the Eerste Divisie best-of-three finals were abandoned with Amsterdam needing just one more win to be crowned champions. Some teams in the 2nd through 5th divisions, including my own, had finished their schedules, but some still had a game or two left to play. 
With the coronavirus largely under control in Europe, restrictions are just starting to be loosened, and some clubs (including mine) are resuming training starting on July 1. The 2020-21 season will likely begin at the end of September or early October.

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