Andrew Yogan: I am excited to try a new league
HC Slovan Bratislava finished up their season in fourth place, and it is not one of those teams that are satisfied with that result. The team from the capital city has already started working on building a better and stronger team for the upcoming season right after their last season ended. They added names to their roster that ice hockey fans certainly know from Northern American ice hockey leagues. And one of them is the 29-year-old American forward Andrew Yogan.
In the previous season, this Florida native player wore the jersey of the Austrian Dornbirner hockey team in ICEHL. His team secured the playoff spot from seventh place and faced a team from Salzburg in the quarterfinals. The quarterfinals, unfortunately, did not go the way they wanted, and Dornbirner finished the season there. "I think it was a good season, the last couple of years that team specifically has been struggling even just to get to the playoffs, and I think Rapuzzi, MacKenzie, and myself helped them make the playoffs. Obviously, you want to win everything and succeed in the first round, but we are happy with the year, and with the organization, we are really happy too." The last season was quite successful for a player who has experience from several North American leagues, accumulating 52 points in 50 games. He became the most productive player on the team and the eighth-most productive player in the league. "I was satisfied, I guess. I mean I have got a couple of years that end up with pretty good numbers, but I think the most important thing I have learned from this year was to be more defensive on the puck and the coach over there really helped me with that. I think it improved my game even more so now I'm a more complete player and looking forward to next season implementing that." says Yogan with excitement.
The newest addition to HC Slovan Bratislava's team had a lot of productive seasons before, but is he an offensive player? "I'm an offensive player who likes to shoot the puck and enjoy scoring goals, and that's kind of my way of helping out mostly, but over the time, I'm working on the whole game." Yogan wore four different jerseys while playing in ICEHL - HC Bolzano, HC Innsbruck, Fehérvár AV19 and Dornbirner EC. "Austrian league is great, and every year I have enjoyed. I loved the country, and as you said, I have been there for five years, so I had a reputation, and people knew me. I couldn't say anything bad about the league but excited for the next chapter and move on," says the forward with a smile. But how did the contract-making processes go? "Contract talks were good, I think they contacted me around the end of the season for both teams, and everything was pretty smooth, and you know I'm just looking forward to meeting everybody for the first time. I've been in Bratislava before with my girlfriend, and we loved the city, so we are excited to live there."
HC Slovan Bratislava was not the only team that was interested in signing a player like Yogan. "I had some other offers, but I do like traveling, and I have been in that city, but mainly I'm looking forward to playing in the new league, so it's going to be really exciting to me. I wouldn't say there was some specific reason, but I'm excited to try a new league," explains the American forward. After spending five consecutive seasons near Slovakia, so does he know the Tipos Extraleague and the hockey culture in Slovakia? "I know that hockey culture, specifically in Europe, is very popular. I have friends that played in Slovak and Czech leagues, so I know that there are great fans passionate about hockey. Players always work hard there, and it is time to test my skills with them. When I was in Fehervar we played against HK Nitra in a tournament game, and I am so excited to see what the whole league is like and to do what I can do." Yogan is joining HC Slovan Bratislava with his teammates from Dornbirner - Matt MacKenzie and William Rapuzzi. "We all kind of talked about it because we all have been thinking about what we are gonna do next year. It is actually really cool that they brought us together. They put us as road roommates last year, so we are pretty close. MacKenzie is a great guy and a great friend. We talk almost every day, so we all are excited to be back in one team together, and it is gonna be really fun, especially with moving into a new city. We came to Dornbirner last year, and the team hasn't been in the playoffs for a while, and we've been able to accomplish that goal, but now we are just looking forward to meeting new teammates and take it day by day trying to get better as a team."
The upcoming season is going to be the eighth season that Yogan is playing in Europe. His professional hockey career before that took place in North America - AHL and ECHL. "I spent five years in North America, and I obviously loved it. I had a couple of injuries along the way earlier in my career, so I wanted to try Europe to get back in the things. I was fortunate that the Austrian league gave me an opportunity and I kind of fell in love with it. I have not really wanted to go back unless I had an incredible opportunity. I love European hockey; I love the culture and the playoffs intensity. There is something about fans over in Europe that they are super supporting, specifically the team where they are from, and it is so much fun. It's a different atmosphere, and I just kind of fell in love with it." He played more than 100 games in AHL before he decided to try his luck in Europe. "The AHL is for real a tough league, it's physical, and it's fast. At that point in my career, I was learning how to be a professional, and I think they wanted to adapt us to that pace when we play with other great players, who are kind of making it to the NHL, so we all pushed each other. I think it was a good kickstart for my career. I learned a lot from my coaches and other teammates, so I think it transitioned me to the player that I am today. When you are a young kid in those leagues, confidence is something you have to like kind of work on, and it usually comes to really hard work. I think it came to the point of my career where confidence is a part of my game now. I'm a confident player today, and like I said, I like to shoot the puck, and I trust my abilities on the ice." explained Yogan how one of the best hockey leagues in the world works behind the scenes. Surprisingly enough, during his first hockey seasons, Andrew played for the Connecticut Whale with the Slovak forward Marek Hrivík. "Marek is a great guy, and we were together for about three years under the New York Rangers. He is a very skilled player, and we have got a good relationship. He is fun, he works hard, and maybe I will see him again soon. Also, I think I saw him about two years ago over in Europe. I remember when growing up as a kid here, I used to skate a couple of times with Andrej Meszaros when he played in Florida back in those days. I saw his name on the Slovan roster, and I was like: “I used to skate with that guy when I was like 15 years old.", so it kinda comes around full circle." Marek Hrivík is currently representing team Slovakia at the IIHF World Championship in Riga, Latvia - is Yogan keeping up with the world championship and watching the games? "Yeah, I'm catching whatever I can. My training camps are kind of hard-working right now, so I am not spending much time at home now. I'm also helping out the local kids at the rink and taking care of my dog, so whenever I can catch the game, I'm trying to."
The team is ambitious, and their newest player is in that mindset too. "I wanna do anything to win and winning the league sounds like a great playing. Obviously, you have to earn it, and you have to work day-to-day. Winning is the most important thing to me, and I am gonna do everything I can to help out. I know that Rapuzzi and MacKenzie are gonna do the same." The offseason is extremely important for each player after having a successful season. They get to do things that they do not necessarily have enough time for. But how does Yogan's offseason look like? "I spend it here in Florida in my hometown. I work out in the mornings, do a lot of golf, and hang out. Also, I kinda did travel this summer, and I went to Mexico. My best friend is getting married this summer, so I'm dealing with that too." Will he be ready to join his new team for the summer training camp? "I am training here in Florida. We have got a bunch of ice down here to train, and a great group, but I will be there for the training camp when it starts."
author: Miroslava Meličková, Martin Lehotský, Marián Kubík | graphic: Kristína Prievalská