Three graduates from the University of Saskatchewan men’s hockey program will take their talents to European nations, not usually known for the sport.
Captain Kendall McFaull and leading scorer Josh Roach have signed one-year deals to play with the Belfast Giants in Northern Ireland, while all-star goaltender Jordon Cooke has signed with Gap in France.
McFaull and Roach join a Giants team which plays in the Elite Ice Hockey League, an 11-team league encompassing the highest level of hockey in the United Kingdom.
“Hockey in the past was a little underrated there, but it’s starting to catch up steam,” McFaull told 650 CKOM.
“Great Britain just won the world championship in the B division … so I think it goes to show the strength of the league.”
The 26-year-old defenceman anchored the Huskies blueline for five seasons, collecting 39 points along the way.
The Rosetown, Sask. product previously played four seasons in the WHL for the Moose Jaw Warriors.
His only stint away from Saskatchewan was a brief two-game stay with the Oklahoma City Barons in the AHL in 2012-13.
McFaull’s trip overseas will reconnect him with his family roots as his great-grandfather was born in Northern Ireland.
“It’s kind of returning home,” he said. “It’s a unique opportunity for me to go back there and see the place.”
The Giants announced Roach and McFaull’s signings on Tuesday, introducing fans to the pair on social media.
Since then, McFaull has learned how dedicated Giants followers are.
“I heard the fans were crazy, crazy good,” he said. “I think my Twitter followers went up by 500, with people welcoming me to the team and stuff like that.”
The two Huskies made their decisions separately, with Roach signing weeks earlier than McFaull — who had ECHL offers to consider.
But his brief time in Oklahoma convinced him an ECHL deal might not be the way to go.
“I kind of saw the guys that were in the (ECHL) that were playing really well and getting called up, but they were getting sent down for no other reason than they weren’t on NHL deals,” he said.
McFaull said both he and Roach will have to adjust to pro hockey life, noting they won’t have to balance workouts and course assignments.
But they’ll still have to study the Northern Irish dialect.
“I was talking to my dad and said ‘it’s great to go to an English-speaking country,’ and he just kind of laughed,” McFaull said.
“Sure enough I did an interview for the media release when we signed and it took a lot of brain power for me to fully understand what (the interviewer) was saying.”
INTERVIEW: Kendall McFaull spoke with Davy about joining the Giants.https://t.co/z9ak9TlpPN
— A View From The Bridge (@AVFTB) June 19, 2018
At least on the ice, McFaull will have a wily veteran to learn from.
Jim Vandermeer, a 38-year-old who played over 400 games in the NHL for six teams, has played for the Giants for the past three seasons.
“To have a guy like that, to use the knowledge he has and kind of help me out, it’s huge,” McFaull said.
They’ll head to Belfast before training camp in August.