All season, Chicago Wolves forward Brooks Macek has scored in bunches. He produced 14 goals in the Wolves’ first 13 games on his way to 26 goals during the regular season — and he’s finishing the way he started.
Macek has delivered one goal in each of the last two Calder Cup Finals games. He’ll be counted on to continue to contribute when the Wolves host the Charlotte Checkers for Game 5 on Saturday night at Allstate Arena.
He also helped out right away after missing the last 12 games of the regular season and the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs against Grand Rapids due to an injury. Macek scored goals in both Game 1 and 2 of the Central Division Finals against the Iowa Wild, helping lead the Wolves to a 2-0 lead in the series that turned into a 4-2 series win.
“It can be tough to come back from an injury,” Macek said. “You’re not in game-speed, you’re definitely working on staying in shape, which the strength guys Jeff (Conkle) and Josh (Jones) did a great job. I feel good in the games, my legs feel great.
“To score a goal in each one of my first two games back was nice, both of them were kind of treats just sitting there in the crease, but that helps with the confidence and getting back into the lineup.”
Looking back on the last year of Macek’s life, from moving his life to a new country to becoming a father, it’s not surprising that he has been able to roll with the punches and adapt to what life and the game throws at him.
A CANADIAN IN CHICAGO BY WAY OF GERMANY
A Winnipeg native drafted 171st overall in the 2010 NHL Draft by Detroit, Macek came to a crossroads in 2013 after his fifth season in the Western Hockey League.
“I think the main decision that I had to make was if I wanted to take my scholarship to university or if I wanted to turn pro,” Macek said. “I had some contract offers here in North America, none of them were NHL offers, and I ended up getting a two-year offer from a German team. I figured two years in Europe could be fun and I get to keep playing hockey.”
Macek asked his girlfriend, now wife, Lauren to make the move with him and the pair spent five years in Germany while Brooks played in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga for the Iserlohn Roosters and ECH Red Bull München.
Macek’s father, Ralf, was born in Germany before moving to Canada in his teens and speaks fluent German, but Brooks says he knew almost no German before heading overseas. Because all of his coaches led practice and video sessions in English, the language barrier only showed up in day-to-day life.
“The first city I played in was a smaller town so it was less English than my last two years in Munich, which is more of an international city,” Macek said. “So that was a bit of a change, but a lot of the German players there would help me out and get me set up with an apartment and a car and all that sort of stuff. Then just kind of taking it day by day and it just got easier and easier but it was definitely a big change to day-to-day life going over there.”
Brooks made an immediate impact for Iserlohn, ranking near the top of the team scoring during all three seasons and leading the team in the postseason in two of his three years. It was also around this time that Brooks, a German citizen through his father, was approached to play internationally for Team Germany.
Marco Sturm, the newly appointed head coach of the German program, invited Brooks to play in the Deutschland Cup, which led to appearances in the 2016 and 2017 world championships in addition to Brooks putting up 39 points in his first season with Red Bull München. Brooks says he got a call from Sturm less than two months before the 2018 Olympics asking if he wanted to be on the team.
“I said, ‘Without a doubt.’ So then it was a bit of a mad scramble, because Lauren and her family wanted to come, my family wanted to come, so everybody is booking tickets to South Korea. It was pretty amazing.
“To be completely honest, I think that everybody that was named to the German team was really excited just to be there. Then obviously the run that we went on to go all the way to the gold medal game and losing in overtime….You know, it still stings a little bit to talk about. At the same time that was pretty much just icing on the cake – the guys just bonded together really well, we bought into our team game and nobody cared who got the credit and who scored the goals, just as long as we were winning.”
Team Germany made a run to play for the gold medal, winning elimination games against Switzerland and Sweden in overtime before stunning Canada in the semifinals. An overtime loss to the Olympic Athletes from Russia in the championship still gave Germany its best finish in international play while Brooks finished his tournament with two assists and two goals in seven games.
Brooks then returned to Red Bull München, scoring 44 points in 50 games while leading the entire league with his 26 goals en route to the team’s third consecutive DEL championship. His performance, coupled with his international experience, garnered some interest from NHL clubs.
“Whenever my career comes to an end,” Brooks said, “it’s something that I want to look back on and say I gave it a chance to come back to North America and gave a crack at an NHL team.”
“We kind of assumed the five years we were in Germany we would just always be in Germany, so to change it up and come back to North America, it’s a bit of fresh air to be back home in a sense.
Just days after signing a one-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights, and amid the planning to move his life from Germany back to North America, Lauren gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter named Reese.
“(There are) quicker flights for family to come, and then (we have) at-home life with Reese,” Macek said. “She’s turning one this month. Time has flown, but it’s been amazing to go home every day and she’s there with Lauren.
“It was a pretty crazy year,” he said with a laugh. “With the Olympics in February, this summer finding out that some NHL teams were interested and offering contracts and being fortunate to sign one, and then I think it was five or six days later Reese was born. It’s been crazy, it’s pretty life-changing.”