Linesman earning his stripes in Europe
Hockey: Lyle Seitz head of hockey operations for Austrian pro league
Wednesday, Feb 08, 2012 10:18 am
By Bruce Campbell
A former NHL linesman is used to having his decisions questioned once and a while, but now that same Okotoks resident is being panned by newspaper reporters from five different countries.
Lyle Seitz is living in Salzburg, Austria and is the director of hockey operations for Erste Banke Ice Hockey League. He takes more heat from the print media than Prime Minister Stephen Harper raising the retirement age.
“The TV guys aren’t too bad but the newspaper guys are always the worst,” Seitz said. “They are all soccer guys and they don’t really know what they are talking about… Thank goodness everybody speaks English or else I would be in real trouble.”
The league is the top pro league in Austria and he estimated there are approximately 70 players from Canada including former Dallas Stars goalie Marty Turco.
“A lot of the players have a lot of NHL time and American Hockey League (time),” Seitz said while back in Okotoks for a break in January. “Eight of our coaches are Canadian, including (former Flames coach) Pierre Page. He’s the coach of Salzburg. I talk to him all the time.”
Their paths have crossed before.
Seitz was a linesman in the NHL for 18 years before retiring in 2010. Ironically, one of the reasons he quit was because he was sick of travel and being away from his family in Okotoks.
“It came out of the blue,” Seitz said. “I got a call on my cell phone and it was from Austria. I thought it was from my business partner Jeff Shantz who used to play over there. To this day, I don’t know how they got my number. I really don’t know how this came about.”
His duties include practically everything to do with hockey, short of washing the players’ jerseys.
“I deal with players, the coaches, the media, the referees — everything to do with the game,” Seitz said. “It’s almost exactly what Colin Campbell (NHL director of operations) does but it is a lot less structured.”
Trying to get 11 teams from five European countries to get along has its difficulties. Seitz has to practically be a history major to do his job.
“Right now Canada is what 145 years old or so, there countries are
thousands years old,” Seitz said. “But Slovenia has been a country for maybe 25 years. Now we are trying to make teams work collectively together over there, but there is thousands of years of history between them.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be dealing with politics outside of hockey, I tell them until you learn to trust each other we are limited to what we can do.”
The five countries are Austria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary and Croatia. Slovenia will join the league in 2012-13.
Seitz compared it to the old High River and Okotoks hockey rivalry.
“One of the reasons I think they brought me over is because I have a neutral perspective,” Seitz said. “I wasn’t hired to put butter on the toast, I’m there to clean up a bit of a mess.”
Some of the problems included players diving and embellishing or being victims of penalties such as hooking.
“We put the hammer right down on that,” he said. “Since I have started doing this, it has opened up. There is less hooking, holding and a lot more hitting.”
Seitz quit being an NHL linesman two years ago because he was sick of the airplanes. Now, despite having to travel to five countries, he is at maximum about four hours drive away from an arena.
He’s learned to love the European lifestyle
“Living out of a suitcase for 20 years, I hated it,” Seitz said. “I signed up for one year and I love it. I realized how much I missed the professional part of hockey and I have signed up for another two years.”
Seitz is taking his wife, Wanda, and their three children with him to Austria next hockey season. They will join him after baseball season in September.
“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for them,” Seitz said. “They aren’t going there for hockey. They will be going to school and getting emerged in the culture… It really helps me knowing they are coming over.”
However, they aren’t about to forget about Okotoks and the other sport in the Seitz family.
Seitz and his sons, Kye and Kale, will be back to be part of minor league baseball in Okotoks every summer.
Seitz was named the Baseball Alberta Minor League Baseball Coach of the Year last year. (His daughter, Tyrah, plays hockey).
“We’re not selling our home in Okotoks,” Seitz said. “I will be back in April or so to coach baseball.”
However, before the boys of summer take the field, Seitz has unfinished business in Europe.
Seitz will be in Sweden this weekend to help a consistency in hockey rules throughout the pro leagues in Europe.
“I’m flying to Stockholm for a meeting with all seven pro leagues and for the first time in history we are developing a system that will in case all seven leagues on how rules will be interpreted,” Seitz said.
“That will be a huge undertaking.”