FORT WAYNE – When Cody Hess turned down a chance in 2011 to play in the North American Hockey League – one of the better junior leagues in the United States – and play for the Fort Wayne Federals, it was met with skepticism by people he knew.
After awhile, Hess, who is from Decatur, second-guessed the decision himself.
When people ask me now if leaving the NAHL was the right choice, I say, It was the best of my career,’ Hess said.
The reason is that playing for the Federals propelled him to professional hockey in the Czech Republic for HC Slovan Ústeètí Lvi.
Leaving the NAHL has been brought up a lot, said Hess, a forward. It was my last season of junior hockey, though, and I had spent three years away from home. I didn’t know if I would go to college or what my plans were (for hockey). So I decided to play in my hometown.
At the time, I might have said it was the worst decision. But we had a goalie from the Czech Republic on the team, and he asked if I would be interested in getting an agent from there. (That agent) got me a tryout, and they signed me.
Hess had three goals and five points in six preseason games, but his momentum was halted when the legalese of getting him approved to play in the Czech Republic’s second tier – below where NHL legend Jaromir Jagr is skating – was held up for about a month.
I have played eight regular-season games and have no points yet, he said. Mentally, I can’t find my groove. The transfer (holdup) took its toll mentally.
Last season, Hess had 41 goals and 109 points in 40 games for the Federals in the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League. Before that, he played for the Helena Bighorns, tallying 41 goals and 114 points in 46 games during 2010-11.
While he would like to play in North America eventually – perhaps for the Komets – he’s enjoying the European experience.
Living in the Czech Republic has been great. It’s a totally different lifestyle, he said. When you can’t find something in the store, you just forget about it and move on because it’s hard to find someone to speak English to help. Another thing is gas prices. I have to pay (what amounts to) $8 a gallon. Driving here took getting used to. It was hard to find an automatic, so I bought a stick shift and I had never driven one before. The good things are all the sights we’ve gone to see – castles, waterfalls – and we go hiking in our free time.
The NHL’s lockout has also affected Hess, since there has been a trickle down of players in Europe’s top-tier leagues, forcing young players to the bench where they aren’t gaining the necessary experience.
The hockey is great, Hess said. It’s a higher level than I am used to, and it’s hard to get accustomed to the style they play here.
While a lot of hockey players go to Europe and find it’s not what they were promised, forcing them to return, Hess is having a blast.
I would like to stay and play here for a while, he said. I like it here, and the team is great to their players.