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Jayson Hron : Schnobrich prepares for another German winter

As usual, summer will be ending early for Munger native Tim Schnobrich. By Sunday, he'll have packed the last of his luggage and said goodbye to his homeland once again.

As usual, summer will be ending early for Munger native Tim Schnobrich. By Sunday, he'll have packed the last of his luggage and said goodbye to his homeland once again.
It's become an annual journey for Schnobrich, an 11-year veteran of the German professional and half-professional hockey leagues; a journey he makes every August to a far off land that's given him a career, a wife and enough memories to fill the frosty Proctor Arena where it all began.
The early days
"I was born and raised here," said Schnobrich, 35. "I played all my youth and high school hockey in Proctor, of course, and then I went to Mankato State University and played four years there."
It was in Mankato that Schnobrich received his first taste of the European hockey that would become his livelihood.
"My sophomore year our hockey team spent Christmas and New Years in Sweden, and it was a lot of fun," said Schnobrich. "You know, small town boy sees that different culture and says, 'Hey, I'd like to experience that for a year or two.'"
But when he finished college in 1988, the path to Europe was blocked.
"I tried to get to Europe then," he said. "But having not played at a Division I school, I just couldn't get over."
However, the disappointment did not extinguish his love of the game, so he decided to give the East Coast Hockey League a chance.
At that time, the ECHL was not what you'd call the fast track to the next level.
"Back then the league had five teams and a 60-game schedule," said Schnobrich. "I thought, 'What am I doing here?'"
But he persevered through the horrible bus trips and goon tactics to not only finish the season, but finish it in the top 15 in league scoring.
"I played a little more aggressive and I didn't back down, but I let the goons fight the goons," he said. "I just tried to put numbers on the board because I knew that was what was going to get me a better job."
And it did.
He received all the opportunity he would need the next year when Grand Rapids native and former Providence Friar Kurt Kleindorst called him and asked if he'd be interested in playing on a team of North Americans going to try out in Germany.
Schnobrich jumped at the chance and packed his gear.
He ended up being the only player from that team who got to stay in Germany when the tryout period ended.
"This one import called and said they were looking for a guy and it turned out to be me," said Schnobrich. "I didn't know a single word of German, so I bought some of those travel packs and I tried to learn the numbers first."
Numbers, as it turned out, came easy for him. Especially numbers like goals and total points. He finished his first season in Germany with 96 goals and 71 assists for an astounding 167 points.
"I lit it up," said Schnobrich. "It was a storybook first year. Our team had just gone bankrupt (the year before) so we only had three lines. Everybody got along and was so excited to play. I led the country in goals that year."
Seven of his goals came in one game, when his Kassel team only skated two lines. The feat was even more impressive considering he also served 14 minutes in penalties in the same game.
But the game has changed much since then, much like it has in the National Hockey League.
"The level of hockey was not the same there then as it is today," said Schnobrich.
Now German teams can carry up to six imports -- Canadians, Americans, Russians, etc. -- on their roster, up from four just four years ago. That alone has greatly improved the complexion of the game.
But Schnobrich said that despite the improvements, the German professional hockey leagues are still chaotic.
"Things are so disorganized over there," he said. "Some of the arenas in the second league are pretty poor. I've had to play outdoors in front of 5,000 people before. Every day is a surprise over there."
Luckily for Schnobrich, he likes surprises. Especially the type he discovered during his second year of playing in Germany when he met his wife Nicole.
"I wasn't really looking for a girlfriend," said Schnobrich, but from the minute they started talking, he knew she was special.
It was a lot to handle for a freckled American kid from Munger.
And now, 11 years after his first pro season in Germany, what makes Schnobrich keep loading up his gear and heading back to Bremerhaven?
"I'm never going to get rich playing this game, but I'm chasing a dream," he said. "Being able to put on the skates every day -- it's for the love of the game."
He'll begin his 12th year of living the dream he's chasing on Tuesday when his Fischtown Penguins open the season with their first practice.
Jayson Hron is the sports editor at the Budgeteer News. He can be reached by e-mail at jayson.hron@duluth.com or by telephone at 723-1207.

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