SALZBURG, Austria — The fairytale-like charms of Austria’s fourth-largest city have been esteemed by the millions of visitors who have ambled through its pristinely manicured gardens and appreciated the baroque architecture lacing the Altstadt, its timeless old town.
A veil of fog has shrouded the view of the city from the top of the Mönchsberg and though it exudes a serenely enchanted ambience, after several minutes of viewing the town below and the seasonal-tinted hues of the tree-lined cliffs that ring its basin, it’s time to descend once again to the city’s center to take in the Mirabell Gardens, where Julie Andrews led the famous rendition of “Do-Re-Mi” as Maria von Trapp in the 1965 film adaptation of “The Sound of Music.”
The tour guide is Tyler Maxwell of Manhattan Beach, Calif.
The 21-year-old forward with EC Red Bull Salzburg is one of 28 American-born hockey players who have appeared in a game this season in the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga, a circuit of 12 teams that compete in Austria’s premier league that also features franchises in Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Maxwell is the youngest American signed to a professional hockey contract in Europe this year; the second-youngest, Bjorn Krupp, son of former NHL veteran Uwe Krupp, is also a Manhattan Beach native.
A former student at Mira Costa High School, where students had the option of taking surf classes for P.E., Maxwell has shifted his studies toward the German language, where he’s begun to pick up certain words and phrases. Reading menus has helped.
While the pregame chicken and pasta lunch is universal throughout hockey, there’s still an adjustment to be made toward breakfast over 5,000 miles away from home, as highlighted by a recent roadtrip to Znojmo in the Czech Republic.
“Instead of scrambled eggs and bacon, you’ll have a hardboiled egg and a Vienna sausage. So I usually go with the oatmeal,” Maxwell said.
Other than the occasionally marginal challenges of experiencing everyday life in a German-speaking country, he’s adjusted quite well with EC Salzburg, logging nine points in as many games after sitting as a healthy scratch through the first five games of the season. Salzburg won four of five EBEL championships between 2007 and 2011 and currently features Alex Auld, a goaltender who has played for eight NHL teams. Also added Tuesday is Tobias Enstrom, a Swedish defenseman who has appeared in 380 NHL games and recorded 33 points a season ago with the Winnipeg Jets after an All-Star season with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2011. Tyler Myers (Klagenfurt), Sam Gagner (Klagenfurt), Thomas Vanek (Graz), Corey Potter (Vienna) and Michael Grabner (Villach) are among the other NHL-based players currently playing in the EBEL.
It’s a slightly different routine for Maxwell, who until recently boasted a summer schedule that contained plenty of surfing, as well as frequent trips to The Strand to play beach volleyball when he was away from the rink.
“I play every chance I get. My dad lives on the beach, and pretty much every day, me and my friends will have a workout, we’ll have a skate, and then we’ll go play beach volleyball on 22nd Street,” he said.
This summer was different, and not only because Red Bull Salzburg begins its preseason training in early June. He was offered a contract by the club the same day his junior team, the Edmonton Oil Kings, played Game 5 of the WHL Championship against the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks last May. Edmonton eventually won the series, aided by Maxwell’s game-winning goal in a decisive 4-1 win in Game 7. That meant he’d be able to cap his accomplished WHL career – he’s also the Everett Silvertips’ all-time leading goal scorer – with a Memorial Cup performance.
“It seems like I didn’t even get out of shape because my season didn’t really end,” he said. “I basically had an All-Star break and a Christmas break combined, which equaled my summer. I was back training June 21, and my season ended May 29. But the way that they have us conditioned here is top-notch. They have so many physicians and trainers and scientists even to make sure that your body is where it needs to be.”
The lack of a wind-down period after a lengthy summer meant Maxwell wasn’t able to get the band back together. He founded The Ocean Below, a group he has recorded several songs with along with fellow former Mira Costa student Dan Sugarman, currently the guitarist for heavy metal outfit As Blood Runs Black. Having been told the band offers a sound similar to 311 and Incubus, Maxwell also draws inspiration from current independent “chillwave” bands such as Toro y Moi and Washed Out.
Surely there’s musical inspiration to be drawn from Mozart’s hometown.
“It’s just really difficult when I’m in Europe, and [Dan’s] traveling the world, so we kind of write over Skype a little bit, and I’ll send him ideas and stuff to him over email, so that’s the only way we can collaborate right now,” Maxwell said. “I was only home for 12 days this summer, but we actually played like seven out of the 12 days. That’s what I try to do in my off-time.”
There’s a lot more off-time as a professional as opposed to being a junior hockey player, where he attended Everett (Wash.) High School in his 17-year old season and filled much of his time away from the rink with various team-sponsored community events. He’s an adult now, and with the ample personal time he’s afforded, his mind has begun to wander about his place as a professional hockey player. Nine games into his professional career, there’s the clear dream of one day playing in the National Hockey League, a tall order for the fleet-of-skate 5-foot-9 goal scorer.
“This year’s definitely a development year for me,” said Maxwell, who was signed to a one-year contract. “Red Bull is a great organization for developing their players. They have upwards of 10 coaches at a time at practice, and they all just want to see you get better.”
As a training camp invitee with the Los Angeles Kings in 2009, Maxwell was a roommate of L.A.’s top goaltending prospect, Martin Jones. He used the same locker rooms and skated on the same ice surfaces he used as a member of the L.A. Junior Kings, the minor organization for whom he played with fellow Manhattan Beach native Shane McColgan, a New York Rangers draft pick.
“It was weird seeing a lot of those guys hoist the Stanley Cup, because two years prior I was sitting in the locker room with them, just shooting the stuff. Guys like Dwight King, Alec Martinez, Slava Voynov, Kyle Clifford were all guys I would hang out in the hotel with, even.”
For now, though, the locker room is shared with 17 Austrians, 10 Canadians, a Swede and a Slovenian, according to the team’s website.
“It’s definitely an adjustment. Being in Europe’s one thing, and for it being my first year pro is a big change. But I think that I’ve adjusted. Being the young guy on the team is definitely something I wasn’t used to last year or the year before. Sitting at the front of the bus and doing the rookie duties is a bit of a change. But I think we have a good core group of import guys, as well as the Austrian players that are very welcoming.”
“I mean, I’m playing professional hockey for a great company that treats us like royalty, and I’m fortunate to be in the position I am now. This is a tremendous city to play in.”