The summer of 2016, I was playing for the Vermont Voyageurs and living in a 1981 Dodge Shasta RV with my buddy, The Mill, and our respective dogs, Reptar and Dozer. Towards the end of that summer, I got absolutely cleaned out trying to run the ball up the wrong side. I separated my shoulder, and thus would miss the rest of the season.
I tried to come back for a game… too soon. I don’t think I did any additional damage, but I was more or less useless on the floor and it isn’t really enjoyable to play poorly – especially when it hurts.
I got a call while The Mill and I were working for the weekend up in Lake Placid for Summit Lacrosse’s first ever holding of the Lake Placid Youth Summit. The one and only Connor Wilson was on the other end of this call, and quite quickly he got to the point and asked “hey, do you want to come with us in a week and cover the European Championships?”
I had a lot on my plate. I didn’t want to leave my dog, my friend, nor my team, as we headed towards playoffs… but I entertain any and all opportunities, so I asked “where?”
Now I had to make a hard decision, and I opted to bail on the RV parked somewhere in the backwoods of Eden, Vermont and ditch the Voyageurs and the Mill. I got Reptar home to my parents, hopped on a train down to the city with just a backpack on my shoulders, and away I went.
Wheels Up to Budapest, Rd. 1
It was an amazing week with more stories to be told than I quite honestly know what to do with. Bruce Pirie and I backpacked for the next month all throughout Europe, and I eventually stayed on to play in the first ever Menschner Cup in Radotin, Czech Republic.
One of my only qualms with the week was that we were in the small college village of Gooododoolllloooooo, Hungary (phonetically spelled, you have to stick out your tongue, bite it, and then belt it out like a Tuscan Raider).
So while anyone who ever reflects back on their wonderful time spent at the 2016 Euros, they’ll say “Budapest”, but we weren’t in Budapest, we were in Godaaaaalooooooooooo, and thus I didn’t really get to experience one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe.
Funny thing about this lacrosse world, specifically in Europe, is that if you stick around a little while, you’ll always get to go back to the people and places you’ve come to know and love.
I was already in Europe, participating in the Krakow New Year’s Challenge in which Poland, Israel, and the Euro Stars men and women would each square off in a three-way scrimmage. It was an excellent time, and an amazing day to ring in the New Year.
I caught a ride from the Polish boys into Budapest. A Volkswagen van left Katowice at roughly 22:00, and arrived somewhere in the 03:00-04:00 hour in the morning. Funny story, I actually arrived in Katowice on the right train on the wrong day, and as a result, I got an enormous amount of work done at a café and at night I was able to help run a youth lacrosse clinic with the man himself, Blazej.
Hey! Look at this, a whole page in and I haven’t even once referenced what this article is about! A new record!
Go On, Brian!
Anyways, I was elated to be back in Hungary, even more so to be in Budapest itself, for the New Year’s Cup (not to be confused with the New Year’s Challenge in Poland)! This annual event has been held in Budapest for a number of years now, and has grown significantly since it’s inception in 2009.
The event has grown so large in fact, that it must now be a tournament spanning two separate weekends at the same location. The first weekend hosted ten men’s teams from across Europe, while the second weekend welcomed in eight talented women’s teams from all over.
Originally, I had plans to play with the Vienna Monarchs for the weekend. I unfortunately had to make the decision to change rosters, however, when I was asked if I could play for Budapest – as they needed more players and Vienna had a couple spares on the sidelines.
I was pretty excited to play with the Budapest guys. I didn’t really know much about the Hungarian team that participated in the European Championships aside from how they played that week in 2016. How much had changed? What guys were around? What guys weren’t?
I was pleasantly surprised. The local club has a relatively small number of players, numbering less than twenty in total, but every player in that red B-Lax uniform showed either some refined skills or hints of future skill with a little development and practice.
That first night before the tournament I crashed on the floor of the hostel with the Polish guys who I had ridden in with. All-around good guy Jan Rydzak let me borrow a camping pad while I snuck in a few hours of sleep, before sneaking out of the hostel in time to get on the field for a 09:00 game. This game was of course against the Vienna Monarchs, the team I had originally planned to play with.
Keys to Playing Lacrosse In Hungary
It was a fun game. We lost, but that’s not really much of a worry.
I lose games all the time. Quite regularly. What’s important was that our team shook off the cold, and figured some very basics out about how this weekend was going to go. We were going to win some games, but we had to work hard for those wins.
Now, I have strong beliefs of how players with more experience should play on a team with players who have less experience. If anyone gets the “Pass the ball to Tucker” reference, I abhor North Americans coming over and simply taking it upon themselves to go 1v6 and try to play the game alone.
That’s not helping anyone.
Your stats aren’t being recorded, and there are zero girls watching. What I love to see instead, is the experienced player who can create team offense sans language or preexisting team chemistry. To go from a cold corpse to a living breathing and lethal team offense is a feat anyone can respect, and I try to embody that whenever I play.
Sometimes I’m the least experienced player on the field, sometimes I’m the most. In either circumstance, one can do his/her best to create a team mentality.
Do you suck at defense? I do.
I just talk through the equation so that someone is there to slide when I get crossed up. The other team wants to play “shut off the American”? Take yourself out of the equation and let the other team try to figure out a five-man slide rotation on the fly.
Being the best teammate is significantly more important than being the best player.
The championship game saw Cebulax (my great buddies, the Polish!) and the Olten Saints from Switzerland. For anyone living under a rock, the Swiss have made immense strides in the past five or so years propelling their standing among European countries upwards.
The Polish improvements can’t be ignored either, and this championship game epitomized the rising powers in Europe. Domestic grown products aren’t always the most attractive players to put on the field in the early days of a program, but they pay dividends down the road. Poland and Switzerland have both made awesome strides and while Olten took the title by a healthy three or four goals, this was an awesome game to watch.
What’s Next for the Gypsy?
And now I had nothing to do for the next five days until the women’s tournament started.
In 2016 I made friends with Balazs at the Euros. Balasz was the team manager for Ireland, and our lack of athletic obligations allowed us the free time in the evenings to hang out and just relax while all the teams were busy representing their countries and stuff.
While I don’t like to glorify drinking or the antics that ensue, I must say that my non-athlete status was quite enjoyable in this regard in 2016. Each team had a rest day, due to the structure of the tournament. So, on any given night, we would head down to the little pub attached to the dorm, and each night there was a different team present. Balasz and I, along with a handful of others, were able to make great friends over that week in GOOOOOOODuuuuLOOOO and I’m happy to report that a lot of those relationships built are still going strong and leading to new opportunities constantly!
Balasz is local to Budapest, and so I had dropped him a line prior to my arrival by a few weeks. One of the tournament organizers, Regina kindly gave me a ride over to Balasz’s apartment, and for the next week I would hang out with Balasz and his girlfriend Csilla.
I figured I’d rest that night, having run my keister off for Budapest, but when Balasz offered to go play hockey that same night, I couldn’t not play!
Allegedly I expressed disinterest in playing hockey as a child, and thus never got to play really, so the opportunity to play in Hungary was something I had to jump on! It was relaxing, nothing competitive, but it was hockey in Hungary. It simultaneously relaxed me and drained every last drop of fuel I had in the tank. I slept like a rock that night.
Having spent one night in Katowice with Blazej, one night on a hostel floor with the Polish guys, and then a night crashing with the Erlangen boys at their Air B&B. I was so ready for a bed, and I couldn’t thank Balasz and Csilla enough for the spot to rest.
I spent the week walking the city, heading to bathhouses constructed by the Turks centuries ago, and just relaxing. Coffee shops, soccer games (all ended in ties), and casual nights out were the best way imaginable to see the city.