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Robak enjoying European experience


After eight years of plying his trade in North American hockey rinks, Colby Robak took his talents to Europe.
The Gilbert Plains product has played the last three seasons in Europe, playing one year in Finland and the last two seasons with the Schwenninger Wild Wings in the German Elite League.
In Robak’s last few seasons in North America, agents began reaching out to the six-foot, three-inch, 194-pound defenceman to play in Europe.
“I heard a lot of great things from friends that I know who have played in Europe. So as I started getting older in the hockey world I figured why not go see the world and get to play hockey doing it,” he said via email.
Robak’s first season in Europe was in Finland, where he suited up in 29 games for Sport Vaasa in the Finnish Elite League.
After one season in Finland, Robak moved on to Schwenninger, where he tallied five goals and five assists in 34 games in 2019-20. This year, Robak is tied for second in team scoring with 30 points, including a team-leading 24 assists.
He admitted it took some getting used to the European game.
“The ice surface is bigger so a lot more skating is involved. I think that was really the major difference I noticed between North American and European hockey,” he said.
Because of its similarity to the North American game, Robak had his sights set on playing in Germany.
“Germany was the league I had my eye set on when I decided to come to Europe. It’s as close to North American hockey as you can get. Our team here has a ton of other North American players, as well as other imports and everyone speaks English,” he said.
“Our day-to-day schedule is in English so it’s less of a culture shock, per say. In Finland everything was in Finnish, so I had a translator with me all the time. That was a really hard adjustment. So my family and I have been very comfortable in Germany. We get treated very well, it’s a nice small city, so we really have no complaints.”
Robak’s wife Colleen and son Cayson have been with him in Europe from the start and his daughter Caylyx was born in Finland.
“I liked the fact that we get to see the world together. The European lifestyle is very laid back, very family friendly and some of the cultural experiences we have been able to see in our time here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And to get to play hockey while doing it is amazing,” Robak said.
Although his time in Finland was short, he quickly learned hockey is quite popular in the Scandinavian country.
“Germany has been our favourite by far. The arenas are nicer than most North American arenas. The fan support is amazing. The game experiences are crazy. It’s loud and everyone is on their feet the whole time. It’s almost like a soccer game, to say the least,” he said.
“The fans were very welcoming to myself, as well as my family. The adjustment not just for me, but my wife as well, was super easy. And most people in Germany know English, so that aspect of living here is great.”
Robak and his family always come home for the offseason. Being away from family and friends, he said, is tough, especially being on the other side of the world.
“And especially this year with COVID. We are coming back this summer, but the government of Canada isn’t making it easy that’s for sure,” he said.
The response to the pandemic in Germany was pretty much the same as it has been in North America, with the country locked down just like in Manitoba.
“We got to do a few things when we first got here in September. But basically since November, it’s just been grocery stores that were opened,” Robak stated.
“As for the general public, they started getting sick of the rules and started not caring. But, no, it was basically locked down all year. It’s very weird playing in front of no fans, and the amount of (COVID) tests we have to do weekly to be able to play has been crazy. But it is what it is, I guess.”
With one year left on his contract with the Wild Wings, Robak, who turns 31 on Apr. 24, does not know what his hockey future will look like. A return to North America is possible or he could continue playing in Europe.
“I’m getting up there in age in the hockey world. The body only has so much to give. So to be able to see the world and play hockey at the same time is pretty enjoyable. And like I said before, we really like Germany. It’s such a cool country and there is so much to see and do,” he said.
But what keeps him going is his love of the game.
“If there is a day I wake up and I don’t enjoy going to the rink like I do now then I guess that’s when I’ll know it’s time to hang ‘em up. But as for now, I have a few years left, I think. I still wake up every day excited to go to the rink like I have for the last, well since I started playing,” Robak said.
“Our kids are still young and are just about to go into school so I think once our kids get a little older, some stability in one place would be nice for them. Our son will start preschool in Germany here next fall so that will be quite the experience and something he will be able to say someday, ‘hey, I went to school in Germany.’ So that’s pretty cool. My playing years will also factor in my family and some stability, as well. As for now, we are just enjoying it and going with the flow.”
Robak admits he has started to think about retirement and life after hockey and he would like to have a backup plan in place so when he does hang up his skates, he will have his feet on the ground with something else.
“As for what that would be, I don’t really know as of yet. I enjoy working out and training people, so maybe something along those lines. Maybe real estate. I really don’t know. I try not to stress about it too much and just enjoy the moment right now.”

Doug Zywina