Speler-coach EV Lindau Islanders: Chris Stanley

Hockey showed Chris Stanley the world

Every hockey player dreams of the NHL. Unfortunately, not every hockey player’s dreams come true. However, when a player moves over to Europe, new dreams are born. ‘When I came over in 2006, I really didn’t think it would last this long. Maybe a year or two. Well here we are thirteen years later.’

Chris Stanley seemed NHL-bound from a young age. Growing up with his younger sister in Parry Sound, Ontario, a small town nestled along the shores of Georgian Bay and best known as birthplace of hockey legend, Bobby Orr. ‘It’s a great place to grow up. I grew up playing on the outdoor lakes. We go back there spending our summers with the family who still lives there.’


He started playing hockey in his hometown when he was 4 years old, then went to Dukes (Metro Junior Hockey League) in Wellington, followed by major juniors in the Ontario Hockey League. In 1997 he was drafted by Vancouver, chosen 90th overall. ‘I kind of made my own bed. We were talking about an entry-level deal when I broke my arm playing my last year in Belleville. The team was really good that year and we ended up on a playoff run. We got to the semi-finals and I was starting to get healthy again. My arm was healed but it wasn’t a 100 percent. We were having injuries on our team. I just wanted to help the team win. The Canucks had advised me against continuing to play because I supposed to be out for 4-6 months. And it was only 8 weeks at that time. I went against that and help my team win an OHL Championship.’

Instead of Vancouver he went to Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. ‘I had a scholarship, so I had to go to University. Hockey would always be there, and education was an opportunity to fall back on when hockey decided it was done with me. I still have a business management degree in my back pocket. I had plans on doing my MBA at some point but hockeytime just kept going. Right now, I have the passion to coach and still be part of the game, so this is where the focus is right now.’


After that he earned a contract with the Las Vegas Wrangles, calling ‘Sin City’ home for two years. ‘It was awesome. We had a good team and a really good coach with Glen Gulutzan who is now an assistant-coach with the Edmonton Oilers. I learned a lot of what it was like to be a pro. I tried to live my dream and move up the ranks but after two years it was time to explore my options. I felt I wouldn’t get my fair shot to get an American League job. Then I got an offer to come to Heilbronn and see what I could do with my game overseas. Once the opportunity arises, you got to take it and ride it.’

Following stops in Asiago (Italy), Laredo (CHL), Dornbirn (Austria), Riessersee (DEL2), Bremerhaven (DEL2), Bad Nauheim (Oberliga), Frankfurt (Oberliga), Sonthofen (Oberliga) and now Lindau. Given the road he has traveled the 39-year old Canadian doesn’t feel sorry for himself that he and his family putting down roots in Lindau. ‘It’s a great place to be. The town is old and very beautiful. We’re really happy here!’


Stanley’s hockey career was over when he signed with the Islanders. ‘I’d changed my skates for a suit and a tie for the second or third time.’ But due to a rough start to the season the Vorstand approached him to come out of retirement and being a player-coach. ‘At first I thought they were joking. A few days later we sat down. They said my experience and leadership could help a young team to show how to play the right way. I’ve discussed it with my wife and we thought it was the best way to influence the guys.’

In January, after an 8-1 loss to EC Peiting on the last day of the Hauptrunde, the Islanders were 5 points out of the eight and final playoff spot. On Friday, when the Oberliga playoffs begin, EV Lindau will get their first taste of Oberliga playoff hockey. What has changed over the course of these two months? ‘It took us some to find our identity. The humiliation by Peiting was a kind of wake-up call. It just moved forward from there. We played the top teams pretty well, pretty tight. We’re able to gain points in consecutive games and started to climb up in the standings. In February we played Höchstadt twice in two weeks and took four of six points from them. That catapulted us into the playoffs.’


After two years in the playdown round with the Bayernliga Lindau will get their first taste of Oberliga playoff hockey on Friday. ‘Our first goal was to reach the Meisterrunde. The next one was to make the playoffs and now it’s to win that first playoff game.’ Two days after clinching a playoff spot Lindau played Trappers last year’s first round opponent, Blue Devils Weiden. ‘For us as a team it was important to go into the postseason on a high note. The focus in a game that didn’t mean a whole lot was to refine what we do best and prove to ourselves that if we do what we do best we give ourselves a chance to win.’

With 115 goals during the regular season and Meisterrunde the Islanders scored the least goals of all 16 teams in the playoffs. ‘Obviously we’d like to be more offensive. It’s something we battled with all year. We played so many 1-goal games and you need somebody to step up and get that goal for you. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to do that on a consistent basis. But we’ve been playing playoff hockey for the past 18 games. We have that mentality in our group. We want to play low scoring games, we want to play defense, we want to be structured and keep ourselves right in the game.’


You can’t even get through a playoff series preview without hearing someone talk, in ponderous tones, about the necessity of ‘playoff experience’. The Islanders have some older players who have been through the playoff grind before and can offer up plenty of advice to this fairly young team (average age just over 24 years). Could nerves be a factor especially in game 1 against Tilburg? ‘Sometimes it’s helpful. It’s good to have a good mix of youth and experience. Sometimes it’s good not to know what to expect. You just go out there and play a road game. Hopefully that can take a little bit of the anxiety and nerves away so they can enjoy the experience.’

Facing the Oberliga Meister for the last three years in your first visit to the postseason in franchise history is a large hill to climb for Lindau. ‘We know the obstacle. We know they’re the top team in the Oberliga Nord. But we played top teams well in the Meisterrunde, whether it’s at home or on the road. We know it’s a daunting task but at the same time everybody loves the Cinderella story.’


The number 8 seed in the Oberliga Süd will be prepared when asked what a Stanley-coach team looks like. ‘I’m a big fan of being prepared and being ready to know what to expect. You can’t prepare for everything, but you can for most things. We have a couple of guys in our lineup that played in the Oberliga Nord and met Tilburg in the regular season. They’ve kind of passed on things what we can expect as far as atmosphere and that sort of things.’
The Lindau coach continues: ‘We know they’re very offensively gifted. We know they’re a physical hockey team. We know they finish every check. We know they’re a fast team. We know they come hard, especially in Tilburg. We know they capitalize on turnovers. The biggest thing for us to know is that we have to battle. We have to play mistake free hockey for sure. Do the little things right. Get pucks deep, defend the middle of the ice and be very disciplined in every aspect of our game.’


The Oberliga playoffs are the most intense time for both the fans and players. The games are much more intense, players grow thick beards and wins brings the team much, much closer. But it’s also a grueling five weeks where fatigue sets in. ‘The plan is to come on Thursday and on Monday for the first two games in Tilburg. The club has made a large financial commitment for us to come the day before and do an overnight in a hotel.’

For a small club like EV Lindau it’s a big financial ask. They’ve never played outside of Bayern. Stanley tried to set up everything from his experience with being in the DEL2, on other Oberliga clubs or even in North America. ‘It’s going to be a new experience for the guys with a morning skate, pre-game meal and that sort of things. I hope they’ll embrace and enjoy it and at least gives us an opportunity to be successful.’


The Islanders’ playoff qualification created a big buzz in the city on the eastern side of the Bodensee. ‘There’s a lot of talk about the support we’re going to get here during the playoffs. Everybody is really excited about Tilburg and seeing the top team from the North coming in here. I talked to some fans of the team I played last year (Sonthofen) and they’re saying when Tilburg comes to Lindau we’re coming to watch. I hope we have a sell out on Sunday.’

Although he said it a few times before in his career this year’s postseason will be Chris Stanley’s last as a player. ‘Whether it happens that I’ll play again? You can’t say no for sure. But we talked about what we want to do with this group next year and the plan is I’ll hang up my skates again and go back behind the bench to coach. That’s fine by me. I’m getting older. It’s a perfect opportunity to get a head-coach position with a team I think we can do something with. They want to move forward and they’re hoping that I was able to push them over the edge and fortunately this year we achieved the goal that we set at the beginning of the year.’


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