Falmouth Native Sweeney Playing Pro Hockey In Hungary
By: Rich Maclone, November 15, 2013
Reclining on a couch in an apartment several time zone ahead, Roscoe Sweeney peered into his computer’s camera and summed things up in simple terms.
“I’m living the dream right now,” the former Falmouth High School and Franklin Pierce College star said.
Sweeney, 23, is currently playing on his second European hockey team this year. He is a first line forward on Ujpest, of the MOL Liga, and living near Budapest, Hungary.
The competition is a step up from the Division III level that he played at Franklin Pierce, where he played his collegiate hockey, Sweeney said. The former all-star for the Falmouth Clippers finished his college career having averaged better than a point per game, scoring 37 goals and doling out 55 assists over 87 games. He is the first-ever former Panther to take his game to the professional level.
As an import into the league he’s expected to continue to produce at a high clip. Each team is allowed only two non-European players onto their rosters, so the American and Canadians have to be among the best players on their team. If they don’t get the job done, someone else will be brought in to do just that.
So far, despite being on the worst team in the MOL Liga, Sweeney has produced for the club. Numbers are hard to generate on a team that, the 23-year old admits, “isn’t really that good.” The hockey team has posted a league worst 1-18-1 record over its first 20 games. Sweeney has appeared in 15 contests, as of last week, and is averaging about a half-point per game. That’s not that bad for a team that is being held to a single goal, or less, on most nights.
The Cape Codder skates on his team’s top line, and he said that they play well. “Our line can usually compete, but the team is boys among men,” he said. “At the beginning, it was really discouraging. It’s hard knowing that most nights, no matter how hard you play, it’s going to be a long night.”
Roscoe said that he feels like he’s definitely on par with most of the talent in the league. “I can play with these guys,” he said. “Our team, the kids aren’t very experienced and they don’t execute on the same level as some of the other teams, it’s a little tough [for me] to get into a rhythm. Not everyone has the same mindset.
“I’m starting to get comfortable, though. I’m starting to put some pucks in the net.”
Getting comfortable also means finding balance in day-to-day life, which was difficult at first because simply finding something to eat proved to be a challenge. There’s no Stop & Shop or Roche Bros. around the corner with a meat section the size of a practice rink. Sweeney said that there is no butcher’s section at his local store. He pines to throw a steak on the stove, or to make a cheeseburger at home, but you can’t cook what you can’t buy.
“I’m able to find chicken, so I eat a lot of that,” he said. “And there’s a great little Irish pub nearby, and I can eat like a king there for $15 American. It’s tough to not be able to go to the store and buy a steak, or the rice that I like. It took some getting used to.”
In Europe, especially a place like Hungary, life is different. Sweeney said he’s enjoying Hungary, even if it leaves him hungry at times.
“It took some getting used to. I’m able to get eggs, but I was freaked out to buy them at first. They’re not refrigerated, they’re just on a shelf. I was like, ‘is there something wrong here? Aren’t these supposed to be kept cold’?”
Now that he’s been able to acclimate some to a different lifestyle, he’s finding himself happier on a daily basis.
He wasn’t as happy when this sojourn began, but just having a place to play the game professionally has him feeling good. He began this long encompassing trip when the beaches and roads of Falmouth were full of tourists, in July. And, it wasn’t in Hungary.
His first stop was actually in Poland, in the city of Katowice, where he tried out for a team and apparently earned a spot. Unfortunately what followed was a run-around from the team’s management that had him preparing to play for a team that kept promising a contract, but never actually delivering one for him to sign.
A week went by, and then another. With each passing day the Falmouth native became more and more skeptical about his surroundings. “They kept saying, ‘we’re going to get you the contract next week’,” he said. “The management there was so untrue to their word. Those first two weeks I was as miserable as I’ve ever been. They had no other imports, hardly anyone spoke any English. I was relying on kids on the team for rides to wherever I needed to go, and there was nothing to do. It was awful. They never ate anything, which was weird. If they did, it was the smallest amount of stuff. I had no idea of the area, what to do, where to go.”
He ended up spending a little over a month with his Hungarian team, and saw time in 12 exhibition games, risking his career as a player with no guarantees of anything from the team. A work stoppage in the league, though, bailed him out.
“The league was going into a lockout, and there was no money for imports, so it was done,” he said. “It was almost a relief. I figured it can only go up from here.”
It went up, thanks to some connections.
In hockey, lifers tend to get around. Aside from those at the top of the heap, lifers find themselves in a variety of interesting locales, as Sweeney is quickly finding out. One of his former coaches at Franklin Pierce happened to be in Europe as well. Some calls were made, and he was able to procure a tryout for Sweeney with Ujpest, of the MOL Liga.
His start in Budapest didn’t get off the ground well. “I was on the plane the next day, and the airline lost my hockey bag. I didn’t have a phone, because of the country change, so it was stressful,” he recalled.
After a few days, though, his bag was found. He then got on the ice and showed that he could play against the competition there quite well.
“It’s like the NHL of Hungary,” he said. “It’s a top league...it’s really different competition. I’d say it’s like playing low Division I (NCAA) teams. Some of the guys in this league are really legit, there are some guys that are former teammates of [Jaromír] Jágr’s. They’re just so strong with the puck.”
As difficult as things were when he got to Europe, Sweeney finds life in the new city much better and loves being where he is. If he has an opinion, he can state it and be heard.
“Management is great here, they mean everything that they say and they listen. It’s a much better situation.”
While he did not divulge the money that he receives for playing, Sweeney said that his pay is currently on the low side for import players. He thinks that he’ll probably get himself a bump in pay the next time around, and that he’s happy because he’s “living the dream.”
“My goal is to see as many places as I can and to play in as many places as I can,” he said.
The travel bug seems to be normal for the children of Terry and Bill Sweeney. Their oldest son, Malcolm, is currently a teacher in China and their daughter Michaela is living in San Francisco.
Roscoe said that when the season ends he plans on returning to the Cape for the summer and resuming his job at the Cap’n Kidd in Woods Hole. He said that he looks forward to working out with coach Pete Tormey at the Falmouth Ice Arena.
In the meantime, he’s loving life around the city of Prague. “The sightseeing is unbelievable, the city is incredible...and there’s a lot of English spoken here, which is a good change of pace.”
The next stop on Sweeney’s magical mystery tour has yet to be determined. He said he could stay put for a year, or switch teams inside the same league, or head to another European country to play.
“I can probably do three or four years of this and they maybe end up in the coaching world, or become an agent. Who knows, maybe coaching or teaching,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy this for as long as I can.”
And why shouldn’t he. Life isn’t too bad right now for the 23-year-old.
“I go to practice, have an early lunch, go to the gym and then become a tourist,” he explained. “It’s really a lifestyle I’m going to appreciate.”