BANGOR — Bangor native Derek Damon is still playing hockey these days and getting paid to do so.
The former University of Maine hockey player recently signed a contract to play for HC Thurgau in Weinfelden, Switzerland, after spending the previous three seasons playing for VSV EC in the Austrian pro hockey league.
He also played a season for Assat Pori in Finland (2008-2009) and another for Kassel in Germany (2009-2010).
After finishing his playing career at Maine in 2006, he played three games for Lowell in the American Hockey League that same year; spent two seasons playing for the Florida Everblades in the ECHL and 15 games for Albany of the AHL before heading to Europe.
“[Former longtime NHL coach] Roger Neilson told [former Assat teammate] Erik Rasmussen that if you can play at least seven years of professional hockey, from the NHL to the lowest level possible, it’s a helluva accomplishment,” said Damon, who will turn 33 in November. “I’ve always thought of that.
“It rings true. You can keep playing if you’re good enough and people want you,” said Damon.
In his seven full pro seasons, he has scored at least 20 goals and notched at least 48 points five times.
He had 22 goals and 27 assists in 51 games for VSV EC last season.
“The money is really good and it’s tax-free. You get to travel and see a part of the world you might not have a chance to see,” said Damon, who added that he makes in the vicinity of $120,000 per year, which is more than he made in North America.
He said every league is different.
“The Finnish League was, by far, the best of the leagues I’ve played in. It was better than the American Hockey League,” he said. “But it’s a tough place to live.”
Each league has its own limit of number of imported players.
In Austria, there is a points system and a team can have no more than eight imports. Finland allows five, Germany allows 12 but only 10 can dress for a game and the Swiss B League, Damon’s new league, allows unlimited imports but only two can dress per game.
Damon was joined by former Black Bear teammate Josh Soares on a line in Germany.
He centered the line and Soares was his left wing.
Damon had 24 goals and 27 assists in 56 games for Kassel and Soares had 16 & 40 in 56 games.
“This will be my fifth season in a German-speaking country. I’m fluent in German now,” said Damon, who played his high school hockey at Bangor’s John Bapst High School and St. Domimnic of Lewiston. He was the 1999 Player of the Year in Maine when he led St. Dom’s to the state Class A title.
He then spent two years with the Exeter Snow Devils of the Eastern Junior Hockey League before coming to Maine.
Damon, who attended the University of Maine’s hockey banquet last Friday, lives in Florida with his wife, Andrea, and he works out in an athletic facility above the Germain Arena in Estero, Fla.
“It’s a nice facility and there are five or six other guys who live down here and play in Europe and we train together,” said Damon, who played golf with former Black Bear teammate Niko Dimitrakos on Monday.
Dimitrakos spent parts of the last three seasons in Germany and had a stint in Sweden as well as a 21-game deal with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.
Like the other alumni, Damon is eagerly awaiting the hiring of a new hockey coach at Maine.
His mother, Cherie, is on the search committee.
He said it is a very important hire because the new coach “could get the program back up to national prominence.
“They seem like they have a good group of [players] so they need someone who can lead the program in the right direction. I’m glad the committee is taking its time because you don’t want to make a quick and rash decision,” said Damon.
He feels strongly that the program can return to national prominence after missing the NCAA tournament five times over the past six seasons.
“There is nothing like playing at the Alfond Arena. You’re walking to the game and students are all lined up outside waiting to get in. I used to get chills every time I played there,” said Damon. “It’s a phenomenal place to play. And the support the community gives the team on a daily basis is incredible.”
At UMaine, Damon finished an impressive four-year career with 111 points (51 goals, 60 assists) in 160 games and played in four NCAA Tournaments, two Frozen Fours and an NCAA championship game.
In the 2003-04 NCAA title game at the TD Garden in Boston, Damon had a goal disallowed when it was ruled teammate Mike Hamilton’s skate was in the crease. Maine lost to Denver 1-0 and, eventually, the rule was changed to allow a goal in that situation as long as the player (Hamilton) didn’t interfere with the play or the goalie’s ability to make the save.