One of my favourite interviews in a long time…
Clutching his post-game protein shake, 33 year old Bjorn Bombis was very open about his hopes for the season ahead. Born in Berlin, he’s the first German player to ice for the Blaze. He’s moved from Bremerhaven, having spent the last four seasons playing for Fischtown Pinguins in DEL2, the second league in Germany, averaging over 40 points a season.
How are you feeling about your move the UK? “I’m really happy,” he said, “and my wife is so happy being here. I’m just thankful that Danny Stewart gave me the chance to enter the league and be able to play for the Blaze. The pre-season is short compared to Germany, so even though we didn’t have a lot of time together so far, I feel like the guys in the room have a good chemistry there are lots of open minded, forthcoming guys. I was very nervous on the way here but it was really easy to come here and we’ve settled in pretty good.”
When players come over from Canada and the USA they are all keen to travel, to soak up the culture and to visit our towns and cities with historic buildings. Bombis isn’t too worried about being a tourist, but he is finding some very significant cultural differences. “Well, first there is the food,” he says, laughing. “I would say that my first impression is people like to communicate more. I feel it’s easier to talk to people here, at least that’s what the dressing room is like. It’s been very easy getting into the groups.”
Anything else? “I’m driving on the left side, and everyone is parking facing whichever way they want. It makes me dizzy when there’s a car on my side facing me! In Germany when you drive on the right side you have to park facing that way also. Oh, supermarkets!” he exclaims. “They are way bigger here. They are huge and there’s way more choice. I got lost in the supermarket! The first couple of days we were here I just wanted to go grocery shopping, I felt it was so interesting and I saw so many products I’ve never seen before. The housing is different too. In Germany we have a lot of flats in a lot of bigger buildings, so the housing is built up to the sky. Here it’s flat (he waves his hand around to show houses) and everybody has a little bit of garden.”
Bjorn’s wife, Jolanda Bombis-Robben, was a Dutch international handball left-winger who played 19 times for her country and scored 11 goals. He explained, “She stopped playing professionally in May, at the end of her season. It was a big day – she had tears in her eyes, and then there was a big party for her with fireworks. She’s stopped so that she can work on her Masters thesis and be here with me. During the last couple of years it was all about sports in our house – we both had games at the weekend and that was the main point in our lives, but now it’s changed a bit for her. She’s good with it, it’s a new chapter for her. I could see the emotions in her last game, and I was emotional too. I could feel that whenever the day comes when I stop playing professional sports, it will be a tough day. I told myself I want to play as long as possible!”
Having two sportspeople in the house makes watching each other play rather tricky. “Last season I watched a handful of her games, and she saw a handful of mine. She was also captain of her team, so she was very busy but we would always talk to each other about our games. The good thing is, we sometimes had the same problems – maybe her coach doesn’t play her as much as she wants to and I have the same kind of situation, so it’s good to have the same things in common and it’s easy to talk to and help each other.”
What was the reason behind wanting to move to the UK Having played almost the whole of his career to date in Germany? “That’s a good question! I played for one year in the Czech Republic, other than that I’ve played my whole career in Germany. I’ve played DEL and DEL2 and won a couple of championships in DEL2. I felt like a needed a new motivation. I played on a really good team for the last four years, we were winning a lot and I just felt like I wanted to prove that I can be a good player in a different league and a different environment. Even though I’m in my 30s I’m eager to prove that I can be a good player in this league. I was basically looking for a new motivation. It’s nice to experience another country and the culture, but that’s not my main thing. I’m not here for travelling or to enjoy my last year playing. I would love to play as long as possible, and maybe I can be here for a few years. That would be nice,” he reflects.
Having spent so long playing in one country, there’s a lot to get used to when you step on the ice in a different place. Are there any obvious differences between the two leagues? “It’s so early in the season that I haven’t played against all the teams, but my first impression is that the league has a lot of players with a better resume than in Germany and that the league is a little bit older. The players are not past their prime, they just have more experience, so I mean older in a good way. There’s not a lot of young players in this league. Maybe in Germany the play is a faster pace, but the hockey here feels like it’s a bit smarter, and it’s also more aggressive.”
Is there a noticeable difference in the training regime between the two countries? “That’s one of the biggest differences,” Bombis explains. “In Germany we have a lot of practices. Usually we have two games a week, then Tuesday and Wednesday we skate twice on each of those days. Over here in the UK we have to play more games in a shorter time, so the practices can’t be as hard, it just wouldn’t make sense. It’s fun to play more games instead of practicing more!”
Observant fans who arrive early might have noticed Bjorn and Jordan Pietrus moving a weighted puck around in their off ice warm up. “I use a weighted puck to practice stick handling, so that when I go on the ice the regular puck just feels very light to me. That means I can move it and I can get it fast into spots and if it’s in an awkward position I can get it into my sweet spot pretty quick. It helps me to activate the muscles for shooting.”
Bjorn isn’t the only hockey player in his family. He clearly caught the hockey bug from his father at an early age, and hopes to keep playing for as long as his Dad has. At 64, Bernd Bombis still ices regularly for EC Celler Oilers, in Germany’s fourth league. Last season he took 15 points from 18 games. Bjorn is clearly very proud of his Dad. “He takes his hockey very seriously. He takes game day naps and is acting like a professional even though he’s 64. For him it’s a big challenge to keep up with the younger guys, and obviously he’s a little bit slower than the other guys. He’s also the coach, so he decides how much ice time he has…. maybe he’s not the most honest guy about that sometimes, he plays a lot no matter what! I think I’m like my Dad. I’m a hockey nerd, I’m addicted. Twelve months a year I need a stick in my hand all the time – ball, inline, pond…I love hockey. No matter if anybody pays me for doing that, I want to play as long as I can.”