When Kelowna’s Christi Capozzi wrapped up her CIS hockey career after four years with the UBC Thunderbirds last spring, she assumed her hockey life would be continuing but in more of a recreational manner.
The captain of the T-Birds, Capozzi had a great Canadian university career, capping it off by being named Team MVP last season and winning gold with Team Canada at the World University Games, before graduating from UBC with a Bachelor of Kinesiology.
But just as she was ready to hang up the competitive skates, an e-mail arrived from a coach in the Swedish Women’s Pro League and before long the Kelowna native was signing her first professional contact and flying to Sweden to continue her hockey career.
“I was a little tentative at first but it was such an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t turn it down,” said Capozzi via e-mail from Gothenburg, Sweden, a city of over 500,000 residents on the west coast of Sweden and home to Capozzi’s new team Goteborg HC. “It was a surprise to me. I was ready to hang up the skates and start my ‘for fun-beer league’ career. I always expected I would continue playing because hockey has been such a big and amazing part of my life for so long, but I never imagined it would be in Sweden.”
Capozzi, 23, has been in Sweden since the beginning of September, practicing with Goteborg HC and last weekend she played in her first games as her team earned a win and a tie. A defenceman used to the North American game, Capozzi found herself struggling to get used to the new game.
“There were definitely some adjustments I had to make in our first real game,” she said. “I ran into some penalty trouble trying to figure out what the referees do and don’t call. But things are going really well. The girls have all been super welcoming and friendly and almost everyone here speaks English so the transition has been very smooth.”
Capozzi is one of three North American players on Goteborg HC and she will soon move into an apartment in downtown Gothenburg with the other import players. She says the city is much like Vancouver as it’s a coastal mecca but there have been many differences to get used to, both off and on the ice.
“Practices are different than back home,” she said. “There isn’t the same yelling and high tempo that I am used to but it has been very interesting to experience a different style of coaching and practicing. Gothenburg is really similar to Vancouver which is nice. It’s right on the coast with water and bridges everywhere.”
Beyond this year Capozzi isn’t sure what her hockey future will hold. She says she doesn’t have expectations and is trying to keep an open mind and have the best experience she can. And she credits her family for supporting her decision to leave Canada for Swedish women’s pro hockey.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity and it’s really exciting,” she said. “I owe a lot to my parents. I remember when I was trying to decide if it was right for me. They told me that I have the rest of my life to work and that a fun, exciting and challenging opportunity like this doesn’t come along every day.”