Greg Classen was a late bloomer and a surrprise NHL player.
Classen was a clever and speedy pivot with good hands. Defensively he was equally as heady though he lacked the strength to battle top forwards and to excel at faceoffs.
Classen was from small town Saskatchewan. He grew up on a farm, played his youth hockey in Carrot River (and his backyard rink) before starring with the AAA Tisdale Trojans and then the Nipawin Hawks in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League. He stayed at this level of hockey rather than trying out the Western Hockey League in order to keep his options open. He was hoping for a scholarship to a US college to pursue his education as well as hockey.
“After my third year in Nipawin, I saw guys going on to have college careers and some guys playing professional and that’s when it kind of clicked and I thought, ‘maybe if I work hard at this and keep improving, that I’ll have a chance to do the same thing,’” Classen told the Nipawin Journal in 2014.
He ended up going to Merrimack College, a little known school at least in the hockey word. He would play two seasons there, winning the Hockey East Rookie Of The Year in 1998-99.
Despite his success, Classen was never drafted by the National Hockey League. But the Nashville Predators did have him on his radar. He was convinced by the Predators to leave school and turn pro in 2000.
His rookie pro season was full of surprise and disappointment. He unexpectedly led the Predators in scoring during the pre-season with three goals and seven points in five games. He ended up playing in 27 NHL games in his rookie season. Not bad for a guy who was almost unheard of before the season.
But Classen struggled with knee and concussion injuries and ended up trying to rehab his season in the minor leagues.
Classen returned in 2001-02 and mostly played with the Predators, scoring five goals and eleven points in 55 games.
As the expansion Predators acquired more talent and depth, Classen began being pushed out the door. He would play eight more games with the Predators in 2002-03 before disappearing to the minor leagues.
Classen would fulfill the terms of his contract and played in the Predators minor league system in Milwaukee for two more seasons until his contract expired in 2004.
It was at that point that Classen decided to act upon a hockey journey he had always thought about - playing in Europe.
“It was always in the back of your mind. You saw guys going to play in Europe, and you always kind of checked it out a little bit and then it was always in the back of your mind to play there,” he said. “It was always something I thought about.”
He would end up playing seasons in Finland, Switzerland and most notably Germany for many seasons.
In 2015 he was the victim of a scary stabbing incident in Germany. While waiting for a cab after attending a season ending team party, an unknown assailant randomly attacked Classen from behind with a knife. He was quickly taken to hospital and he was able to make a full recovery.