Schartz to join professional team in Finland for final playoff push
Former Liberty University Division I men’s hockey defenseman Zane Schartz (’19), who has spent the past five years playing in the ECHL and overseas in Hungary, will fly to Finland on Wednesday to join the HCIK Suomi-Sarja professional team in Turku, located a 90-minute drive west of the capital city of Helsinki. The team is currently 13-11-5 and in fifth place in the league standings, but only three points out of second place and a spot in the playoffs.
“They’re looking to have a playoff push and get promoted to the next level,” said Schartz, 28, who started the 2022-23 season with the ECHL’s Tulsa (Okla.) Oilers. “That’s why they’re bringing me in. In Europe, if you win your league, you move up to the next level, and the bottom team that higher level will drop down. I am open to play any role they need of me. I am just playing for fun at this point and looking for a good experience. I am grateful for an opportunity to play hockey at any level and to play in a new country and a new culture.”
Schartz’s last season playing for the Flames was 2017-18, before signing with the Norfolk Admirals to help that ECHL team make a push for the playoffs. He completed business marketing through Liberty’s online programs while launching his professional hockey career that has also included stops with the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears, Newfoundland Growlers, Kansas City Mavericks, and Toledo Walleye as well as with a professional team in Hungary in 2019-20.
“Life after Liberty has been great, and I’m grateful I can go and still play hockey,” said Schartz, who has gotten plugged into Eastside Community Church near Dallas since returning from his season spent in Hungary, which was cut short by COVID-19.
“I loved my time over there in my last full season of playing professionally,” Schartz said. “I definitely tried to have intentional conversations (about faith) over there with my teammates.”
For the past four months, Schartz has been working as the Chief Investment Officer for Wolfe Investments, a private equity real estate company, while staying in shape and looking for a place to close out the season. Between practices and games, he will continue to work remotely overseas.
He noted that the pro team in Suomi-Sarja has assured he will have the flexibility to both work and play.
“They’re setting everything up and expecting me to come in and help the team on the back end of its season,” Schartz said. “It’s definitely a new opportunity and a quick turnaround for a pretty short-term stop. They just need me for one month, for the final six regular-season games and 5-10 playoff games, depending on how well they do. I am just going in with very open mind and looking to experience Finland. I love to travel and see different parts of the world, and I have never been there. It will be an interesting culture and I am hoping to have a great experience, a good journey along the way playing hockey, and hopefully tell some people about Jesus.”
He doesn’t expect to sign a long-term contract in Finland, but he is looking forward to making the most of his time there. He will look to contribute on both ends of the ice, particularly on special teams.
“I think they want me to be offensive and to quarterback the power play and help the team score some goals,” Schartz said.
He hopes to have an impact on the ice as well as spiritually within the team, which is predominantly made up of Finnish players.
“There are not a lot of imports in this league, so it will be a good opportunity to meet some new people in this culture,” Schartz said. “Finland definitely needs Jesus, so hopefully I can be bold and share my faith.”
Both Liberty’s Division I men’s and women’s hockey teams have traveled to Finland over Christmas Break in 2020 and this past month, respectively, on LU Send trips in partnership with Operation Mobilization.
“It is cool that Liberty has a connection over there,” Schartz said. “Maybe I’ll cross paths with some people that have met other Liberty Hockey players.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer