Life as a professional ice-hockey player can be fickle, especially for North Americans playing in Europe where they often only spend 10 months at one club before packing up their gear and moving on to the next obscure city. In his time as a professional ice-hockey player Kariya has seen more places than most, plying his trade in three continents (Asia is the third if you were wondering, having spent a season in Japan).
However Kariya relishes this, as does his wife (and dog) who cherish the opportunities presented to them to experience the many different cultures that they have so far been able to take in. Coming to Latvia again came with new challenges and a new culture for he and his wife.
“Although Western Europe is right there and I have lived in Sweden and Finland, it is unlike any culture I have experienced before,” Kariya told Dinamo Riga journalist, Jared Grellet. “Riga is a wonderful city and diverse. I have loved being able to get out and walk around the city with my dog, although that has happened less as the weather has deteriorated.”
Whilst residing in the different communities, Kariya attempts to take in as many cultural experiences as he can, however this is somewhat limited due to his busy schedule. He is, however, appreciative of Latvian folk dancing, having recently attended a concert with teammate Jekabs Redlihs and his wife.
He also realizes that by just playing for Dinamo Riga, he is in fact a massive part of the culture here in this hockey-mad nation. He finds that the fans here are incredible, who still continued to turn out in their masses even when the team was experiencing a rough patch. “We are a big attraction and as a team we understand what we mean to this city,” Kariya said.
Fitting into a new culture also means learning a new language, or at the least, the bare minimum (JG: “kai et?” MK: “labi paldies”). Kariya says that language within the Dinamo Riga setup is not an issue with most players being fluent in English having played at some stage in North America, whilst most others can speak the language to a decent level. Kariya in return rates his Latvian as pretty good, claiming to speak a decent amount, but at the same time admits that being laid of with concussion for one month as a least than ideal time to be trying to master a new language. The concussion left Kariya in the ironic situation of having plenty of time on his hands but due to the injury a limit to what he could actually do with his time.
However, when Kariya is injury free and taking time away from hockey it is on the golf course where he can most likely be found. The mention of golf sees Kariya really open up as he begins to talk about his true sporting love, a career he would have also liked to have pursued.
“Coming from Canada it is quite difficult to get recognised for college golf schloarships down in the U.S. and with two older brothers already being recognized in hockey I that is why I chose the path I did,” Kariya said.
Although his time is somewhat limited on the course because of the winter climate, he is far from being just another weekend hacker, playing of a more than respectable 4.1 handicap.
When informed that as late as 2003, the Baltics combined hosted just one golf course, he is impressed at the speed in which the sport has developed in the region. Typically he plays at the course of his team mate Sandis Ozoliņš, which he rates highly as a course. “It’s a great course that Sandis has got here. I’m extremely jealous that he has his own golf course and I can only hope that one day I will be just as fortunate,” Kariya said.
We were also curious as to whether Kariya has any aspirations to follow in older brother Paul’s footsteps and perhaps one day try his hand at acting (Paul once guest starred in a Disney ice-hockey film “D3″). This rouses a wry laugh out of him. “Lets just say I am a much better actor than he is’, before adding ‘he really doesn’t get enough stick for that, I must try and dig that film up from somewhere,” Kariya said.
This does not however mean that he will making a move to Hollywood soon, content instead to take in the opportunities and experiences that life as a professional ice hockey player presents him.