During the 2008-2009 hockey season, former University of Maine All-Hockey East second-team winger Josh Soares was an Alaska Ace, Peoria Riverman, Manitoba Moose and Chicago Wolf.
In 57 games between the four teams, he had 20 goals and 24 assists.
Soares experienced stability for the first time in his three-year pro career this season but he had to go abroad to do so.
Soares played for the Kassel Huskies in Germany’s top pro league and was the left wing on a line with his former UMaine teammate Derek Damon, who centered the line.
Soares had 16 goals and 40 assists in 56 games and Bangor native Damon also had a productive year with 24 & 27 in 56 games.
“It’s just fun to play in one spot and not be up and down all the time,” said Soares. “I really liked it. The city is great and it’s good hockey.”
The lifestyle isn’t bad either.
The 28-year-old Soares, who will return to Kassel next season, said he makes approximately $60,000-$70,000 per year and the team takes care of his housing and supplies him with a car.
And the money is tax-free.
The rinks are all Olympic-sized (200-by-100 feet) while most North American rinks are either 200×85 or 200×87.
“There’s less contact so it makes the game more skill-oriented. I’ve gotten used to it. I don’t mind it either way. There are plusses and minuses to both,” he said.
The travel schedule was similar to his college days.
“The bus trips ranged from an hour and a half to six hours,” said Soares, whose home crowds averaged 4,000.
“Soccer is, by far, the number one sport in Germany,” said Soares.
In addition to enjoying the brand of hockey, he said he liked the experience of “going to different countries. You get to see the world and play hockey. And you make a good living.”
Each team is allowed 10 imported players, so there are plenty of other North Americans in the league.
The other nice thing was he got plenty of ice time.
That wasn’t the case when he was trying to crack the AHL lineups in Peoria, Manitoba and Chicago. Alaska is an ECHL franchise and he received plenty of ice time with the Aces.
“Moving three or four times a season is very difficult. You’re always learning the guys’ names and stuff like that. It’s tough to find your place on the team and prove what you can do,” said Soares. “You’re on the third or fourth line and you only play two or three shifts a period.”
He almost received an opportunity to hoist the Kelly Cup given to the ECHL champion in 2008-2009 but the Aces lost in Game 7 of the championship series to South Carolina.
Soares did his part to get them to the title game with 10 goals and 18 assists in 21 playoff games after notching 11 & 11 in 12 regular-season games.
“Manitoba had asked me to stay for the playoffs but I would have been an extra player who played only if someone got hurt. I would rather go back to the Aces and play,” said Soares, who would love to get another shot in the AHL but feels the chances are slim.
He had 36 & 45 in 61 games for the Aces in his first full pro season in 2007-2008 after concluding his Maine career with 49 & 63 in 132 games.
He keeps in touch with some of his former Black Bear teammates and visited the campus this past weekend.
“It always brings back good memories. It’s always nice to go back. I enjoy it,” said Soares, who went to three Frozen Fours and four NCAA Tournaments.