With the National Hockey League keeping its players off the Olympic stage this year, countries have been scrambling to fill rosters for the upcoming Winter Games.
With only seven active German players in the NHL this season, the competition was as stringent as always to earn an Olympic roster spot, and one of those belongs to former Tri-City American Brooks Macek.
Macek, 25, got a formal invite in mid-January to play in the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I’ve played in two World Championships for Team Germany with all of the NHL players,” Macek said via email. “There are only a handful of full-time NHLers from Germany, so I don’t think that would affect the roster too much.”
A 5-foot-11, 180-pound forward, Macek played for the Americans from 2008-10, putting in 2 1/2 years before being traded to the Calgary Hitmen midway through the 2010-11 season, along with Spencer Humphries, in exchange for Matt MacKenzie.
“I enjoyed my time playing for the Ams,” Macek said. “We had some pretty successful teams while I was there, so I think that added to the experience. Winning the WHL Western Conference in 2009-10 will be something I’ll never forget.”
Macek, who grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, has German-Canadian citizenship. He has made 35 appearances for Team Germany. He first played for the German national team at the Deutschland Cup in 2015.
Macek’s dad, Ralf, was born in Geldern, Germany, and moved to Canada as a teenager.
Growing up, Macek played for Canada Western at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, winning a bronze medal.
“I always knew I was eligible to play for Team Germany internationally,” he said. “It’s not weird at all not to have a maple leaf (on my jersey). I’ll be proud to wear Team Germany’s jersey.”
Team Germany played a pre-tournament game in Switzerland on Feb. 6 (a 2-1 overtime victory), then continued on to Pyeongchang.
The Olympic hockey games will be held at the Kwandong Hockey Centre. Germany will play its first Game Feb. 14 against Finland. The Germans will play against Sweden on Feb. 16, and Norway on Feb. 17 to finish Group C preliminary play.
I think what I’m looking forward to the most, is just the whole experience in itself. I’m going to do my best to try and take everything in, really absorb the fact that I’m at the Olympic Games.
Men’s qualification play begins Feb. 19.
The Germans’ most recent Olympic medal was bronze in 1976. They also were third in 1932.
“I think what I’m looking forward to the most, is just the whole experience in itself,” Macek said. “I’m going to do my best to try and take everything in, really absorb the fact that I’m at the Olympic Games.”
You can find Macek on the ice wearing No. 12.
Macek was selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the sixth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (171st overall), but never had the opportunity to play in the NHL.
He has had a very successful career in Europe, playing three seasons for the Iserlohn Roosters, and now is in his second season with the Munich EHC, the current champions of Germany’s top professional league, the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL).
Macek has 26 goals and 18 assists in 49 games this season, and is second on his team in scoring behind NHL veteran Keith Aucoin.
“I have no regrets with the path my career has taken,” Macek said. “I get to play the sport I love for a living. The best part about playing overseas is all the interesting places you get to travel to. Our team played games in Finland, Switzerland and Poland earlier this season.”
I have no regrets with the path my career has taken. I get to play the sport I love for a living.
He has seen a few familiar faces on the ice.
“There are quite a few ex-Ams playing overseas,” Macek said. “I played against Adam Hughesman last season, and this season Justin Feser (Krefeld Penguins) is playing in the same league as me, so I’ve seen him quite a few times. It’s always good to catch up with old teammates.”
Macek also likes the large playing surface in Europe, which measures 200 feet long by 98 feet wide, compared to the 200-by-85 sheets of ice in North America.
“I really like it,” Macek said, “because I like to skate and the bigger ice surface plays a little more into my style of hockey.”
When Macek was playing with the Americans, he met Lauren Whitehead at Kamiakin High School. She graduated in 2010 and the two married last summer at the Moore Mansion in Pasco.
“I still remember the day he got traded,” Gina Whitehead said of her future son-in-law. “They were just kids. I thought, ‘oh my gosh.’ They never looked back. They were able to handle all that was handed to them. They had trust in each other from Day 1.”
Lauren has been with Macek during the five years he has been in Europe, giving her parents Gina and Les great excuses to travel.
“He has taken us on journeys I never would have thought of,” Gina said. “We have been to Germany and Switzerland and a couple other counties. Lauren has been to 12 different countries.”
Like Macek, the Whiteheads are from Canada. They moved to the Tri-Cities from British Columbia when Lauren was young. Lauren now has dual citizenship.
“We spend a ton of time in Kennewick in the summer during my off-season,” Macek said.
In fact, the couple bought a home in the Tri-Cities, and will welcome a daughter in June.
“Lauren and I love our life in Europe,” Macek said. “We currently live in Munich during the season. In the off-season, we spend time at our summer home in Kennewick and visit friends and family in Winnipeg. We also go to my family’s cottage in Northwestern Ontario.”
The Olympics are a family affair
The family departs Tuesday. Lauren will be joined in the rooting section by her parents and his — Ralf and Paula Macek. Also making the trip will be Macek’s brothers, Bret and Bryce, and sister Brynn.
“The whole family is going to make it,” Macek said.
“We are really excited,” Gina said. “We have tickets to all the games through the bronze medal. The Macek’s have tickets to the gold-medal game, but we will be heading back by then. The only downfall is the weather. It is really cold there right now.”
An Olympic medal would warm things right up.
Tri-City Americans at the Olympics
2014 — Carey Price, Canada (gold medal)
1998 and 2006 — Olie Kolzig, Germany
2018 — Brooks Macek, Germany
2010, 2014, 2018 — Shannon Szabados, Canadian women (two gold medals)