Former Axemen Furey playing with and against NHL talent in Austria

T.J. Colello Published on January 01, 2013

Glace Bay defenceman has skated for Klagenfurt AC the past five seasons

SYDNEY — Kirk Furey has had a long, professional hockey career. He’s played at a few levels in North America and has skated in Europe for the past nine seasons, so you would think he’s seen it all.

fureyThat was until he skated alongside 6-8, 227-pound Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers.
“He’s probably the tallest guy I’ve ever played with and bar none the best skater for a guy that big,” said the 36-year-old blue-liner from Glace Bay. “He’s unbelievable. He’s like a gazelle out there.“Personally, I don’t know if you’ll ever see a guy skate like that again at that size. I’ve been away a long time and I watch NHL games on television. I remember watching him in his first year and saying to myself ‘Oh my God,’ but to play with him, he can skate.”

Furey is playing for Klagenfurt AC in the Erste Bank Eishockey Liga (Erste Bank Hockey League in Austria), where he’s spent the past five seasons. Myers and Edmonton Oilers forwards Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano are three locked out NHLers added to the Klagenfurt roster this season.

Klagenfurt is fighting to secure one of the top six playoff spots in the league. Playoff berths seven and eight will be contested by the bottom six teams in the 12-team league. Only a few points separate eighth-place Kagenfurt with a spot in that top six group.

“Where we sit kind of indicates how the season has gone,” said Furey. “It’s been an inconsistent season, especially for us. We’re expected to be at the top. We’ve been just trying to find our way here. I feel like in the last five to 10 games, we’ve started to turn things around and hopefully, we can get on a roll.”

Furey, 5-11, 200 pounds, played three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League with the Owen Sound Platers and followed that with four seasons with the Acadia Axemen. In his rookie year at Acadia in 1997-98, the Axemen reached the national final, only to lose to the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds.

In 2001, Furey and another Cape Breton native, Paul Andrea of Sydney, helped Canada win silver at the 2001 Winter Universiade in Zakapone, Poland.

Furey then turned pro, playing in both the East Coast Hockey League with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies and the American Hockey League with the Philadelphia Flyers’ farm team, the Philadelphia Phantoms.

In May 2003, Furey helped the Boardwalk Bullies capture the Kelly Cup as ECHL champions. The Bullies knocked off the Columbia Inferno in five games in the best-of-seven final. Furey finished tied for second in playoff scoring among defencemen with a goal and 10 assists. His 10 helpers were the most by a blue-liner.

He made the jump to Europe in 2004-05 with the Kassel Huskies in Germany and then skated with the Iserlohn Roosters for two seasons before joining Klagenfurt in 2007-08. Furey joked that Klagenfurt is the longest he’s been in one spot since he lived in Glace Bay.

“Personally, it was a better move at the time,” he said about his move to Austria. “It was one of my better options personally. I looked into the league and my coach at the time, all things indicated that hopefully it would be a good decision to make that move.

“At that point in my career, I decided to do it and six years later, I’m still here. Personally, it ended up being a really good move at that point of my career and I’m really happy here.”

Furey’s only title in Europe came in his second year with Klagenfurt in 2008-09. He said no matter where you play, winning a championship is always exciting.

“We had a great group of guys, we had a good mix of players and everything fell into place that year,” said Furey. “We didn’t have many injuries and that goes a long way when your trying to win a championship. You ultimately get to have that camaraderie, the lines click and you know each other constantly.

“It was a good year, and we’ve been fortunate since to make it to the finals, but come up short.”

Kirk and his wife, Jennifer, also have a home in Airdrie, Alta., located just outside of Calgary where she’s based as a flight attendant for Air Canada. She’s originally from Lorette, Man., located just outside of Winnipeg. The couple met while he was playing in Germany. They have two kids: Three-year-old daughter Brinn and 11-month-old son, Skyler.

Furey said playing in Europe has meant a less hectic schedule. The league has only 44 regular-season games, which has meant more time to focus on family.

“It’s huge. You don’t play as many games. You typically play just on the weekends,” he said. “They’ll mix Tuesday games in a little more often after Christmas. And not being so physical and, knock on wood, you can stay healthy, it’s for sure why your career can be extended over here.

“I’m hoping to keep playing as long as I can until they kick me out. That’s the goal.”

When asked if there was any chance of him returning to North America, Furey said he wouldn’t come back to play, but coaching is something he could pursue in the future if the right opportunity presented itself.

“I would like to play until I’m 40,” he said. “I’m 36 now, so that’s what the goal is. My contract is up this year and I’m hoping to come back here, but nothing has been finalized yet. I still have to wait and see. But if not, the hope is to move on to somewhere else, but in the same league would be ideal.

“We enjoy it here. We love the city, we love the country and it’s kind of hard when you’ve been here for six years not to take on part of the culture and we definitely made some friends over the time we’ve been here.”

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