Ask Luke Adam about the decision to move his hockey career to Germany and there’s a tendency to wonder if it had anything to do with is dad, Russ, having spent a few seasons in that country at the end of his playing days. The answer is a resounding “No,” but for different reasons than you might expect.
“That’s a funny story,” says Adam, who’s no stranger to those having grown up in St. John’s, N.L., ahead of Scotiabank Hockey Day In Canada in Corner Brook, N.L., on Jan. 20.
Adam is from St. John’s because that was the final stop on Russ’s hockey-playing adventure. But if you jumped on the website eliteprospects.com, you’d be led to believe Russ toiled for another handful of years in Germany during the early 1990s. Not so, says Luke. The best explanation he and his dad can come up with is that — long before the Internet made due diligence a piece of cake — an imposter claiming to be the Russ Adam who played eight games for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1982-83 took his hockey bag to Germany and hoped for the best. They have no proof and no burning desire to find the truth; it’s just the best theory they’ve got.
“How else would that have happened?” Adam says with a laugh.
While the tale of Russ Adam’s German excursion that didn’t actually happen is a bit of a head-scratcher, his son’s presence there makes a lot of sense given the current pro hockey landscape.
Adam was drafted 44th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2008 after a strong season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with his hometown St. John’s Fog Devils. In 2010, he was one of the top goal-scorers on a Canadian world junior team that featured players like Taylor Hall and Alex Pietrangelo. Later that same year, he played his first NHL game at age 20. The next step, though — establishing himself as a full-time cast member in The Show — proved difficult. Adam played 283 AHL games from 2010 to 2016, but never quite stuck in the NHL. He never seriously considered the offers he got from Europe along the way because he was fixated on the best league in the world. But when a professional tryout offer with the Calgary Flames in 2016 didn’t result in an NHL ride, Adam decided it was time to try a different route.
At 26, the prospect of riding more AHL busses with no promise of something bigger ahead held little appeal. Instead, Adam packed up and headed east, inking a one-year deal to join the Mannheim Eagles.
“Once I got here I was pissed off at myself for not coming over earlier and grinding out the American League for those last few years,” he says.
A number of things have made the transition a smooth one for Adam. First off, the trickle-down effect of the NHL and AHL valuing younger players has led to a huge spike in the quality of competition in Europe. The Eagles roster features well over 2,000 games worth of NHL experience, with names like Devin Setoguchi, Carlo Colaiacovo, Mark Stuart and Marcel Goc dotting the lineup. Teams in the German league play just 52 contests, which is a little easier on the body than those three-in-threes that are a big part of the 82-game AHL schedule. Mannheim has two practice rinks at its main arena, so players are always heading to the same venue. When the work day is done, Adam returns to wife Hannah and the three-story townhouse that was provided for them as soon as he signed with the club.
“We weren’t really sure what to expect and we walked into this beautiful situation, this beautiful house,” says Adam, who lives right beside about nine of his teammates and their families. “Lifestyle-wise, we really have no complaints. [If I want to be picky], I wish it didn’t rain so much.”
A little bad weather, of course, isn’t enough to dampen Adam’s enthusiasm for his adopted home. A few months after he landed last season, he signed a contract extension that will keep him in Mannheim through 2018-19. And while he can most definitely see himself staying in his current situation for years beyond that, Adam doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.
“I’m just trying to focus on playing well because there are guys knocking on the door here just as much as back home,” he says.
Thus far, Adam has done a nice job of proving his worth. He netted 35 points in 38 games last season and, while his production has slowed a bit this year, he’s still second in team scoring. He’s also the first to tell you that the unexpected turn in his hockey journey has worked out wonderfully.
“Yeah, I wish I was still playing in the NHL,” Adam acknowledges. “But I was able [accept that I’m not] and move on.”