Wherever Adrian Mizzi travels he tends to get odd looks.
Of course, putting on full goalie gear in front of the pyramids in Egypt will get you that, as it will in a grocery store in Brazil or in a public square in Portugal. Heck, even in the so-called Center of the Hockey Universe, Mizzi’s hometown, strapping on the pads in front of the CN Tower or the World’s Largest Rubber Duck guarantees a sideways glance. But it’s a small price to pay to get that perfect peculiar photo for his scrapbook.
For more than decade now, Mizzi has resided at the intersection of hockey and travel, living a semi-nomadic existence that has taken him through 38 countries and counting – always with his goalie gear in tow. He’s been everywhere from the ‘End of the World’ in Ushuaia, Argentina, to the ‘Roof of the World’ on the Changthang plateau in India, and all points in between. And it all started in Dubai back in 2005.
Mizzi had been a goaltender all through public school, idolizing the likes of Pelle Lindbergh and Grant Fuhr, but he lost touch with the game in his late 20s after his best friend, Chris Brzezicki, died in a freak accident while working on a construction site. By his account, Mizzi fell into depression afterward, and his life spiralled out of control, hitting its nadir in Amsterdam after getting caught up with the wrong crowd. He had no money to his name and was living with relatives in the U.K. after some rather large unsavory characters in the Netherlands offered him a choice between leaving the country and being gifted a new orifice. That’s when Mizzi, a Canadian of Maltese heritage who holds dual citizenship, took to Google. “In my lonely state, I looked up ice hockey in Malta,” Mizzi said. “That’s when I got in touch with the Maltese national hockey team, I guess you could call them. They were the only hockey guys in Malta. I saw an article that they had just played a tournament in Dubai. I sent them an email, and one of the guys wrote back to me."
Armed with only an invitation to try out, Mizzi returned to Canada and got his guano together. By the following year, he’d saved enough money to fly to Dubai for the same tournament. He practised with the team, got the goaltending gig and led the Malta Pirates to the final in their division. “I came back home and right away I said, ‘I’ve got to find another tournament,’ ” Mizzi said. “I was fully hooked, fully hooked. I always loved tournaments as a kid. The atmosphere of being among likeminded people who just want to play hockey and have as much fun as possible is very addictive. Dubai really changed my life. I found something. I really found my true calling.”
And so ‘The Travelling Goalie’ was born.
A few years later, Mizzi made it official when he began blogging his travels, which have included everything from snapping stealth photos off the ice to gutting out several hazards on the ice – all in the name of hockey.
In Italy, a fluke shot during warmups broke his nose and sent him to the hospital, but not before Mizzi gutted out the game with cotton balls stuffed up his busted beak. In the Himalayas, warmed only by frequent nips of whiskey, he endured thin air, frigid temperatures and some rather disconcerting aromatherapy from a fire some locals were burning at one end of the rink – just to be a part of the Guinness World Record for the highest-altitude hockey game ever played. “I was 100-percent certain it was diesel, but after the second period I was told it was yak s---,” Mizzi said. “That’s when it came to me: I’m fully inhaling particles of yak s---. I’m eating s--- while I’m playing hockey. I’m gasping for air and I’m eating s---. Like, what the heck?”
By his own admission, Mizzi frequently puts the “beer” in beer-leaguer wherever he travels, never more so than one night in Austria when he played a game fully corked, using the crossbar for balance. Surprisingly, Mizzi was able to keep the contents of his stomach from making an appearance, and he even led his team to victory. But he did have a Glenn Hall moment one evening in Romania – unfortunately, it came during the game instead of before it after eating a heavy meal too close to start time. “It was gross, really gross,” Mizzi said. “I kind of lifted my mask up and made it look like I was just spitting, but really I was spitting mouthfuls of puke right into the blue area of my crease…The play would come into our end and I wouldn’t puke again, but then the puck would leave the zone and I’d lift up my mask and throw up again. This went on for about 15 minutes. I must’ve puked four or five times.”
Another stinky situation came when Mizzi and a few of his beer-league buddies all piled into a campervan to travel around Europe for three weeks, looking for a place to happen upon some hockey. The camper came completely equipped, with beds, a kitchen and a bathroom, which even had a fully functioning shower – if only they had read the vehicle’s operating manual. “We’d stop in a town, and we’d beg to play hockey,” Mizzi said. “We’d just show up at a rink and say, ‘Hey, let us play hockey! Can you let us play hockey?’ And the reason was so that we could shower, because we couldn’t figure out that the stupid switch for the shower was under the passenger seat.”
One of Mizzi’s personal highlights came during a tournament in Hungary, where he met Attila Ambrus, a.k.a. ‘The Whiskey Robber,’ a former goalie/janitor for Ujpesti Torna Egylet in the Hungarian League who committed a string of robberies in and around Budapest during the 1990s, sometimes while wearing elaborate disguises. With help from a local IIHF referee, Mizzi was able to track down Ambrus working at a nearby mall. “I went out there, got to the mall, came out of the elevator, had my GoPro, turned it on as soon as the elevator door opened and lo and behold there’s the Whiskey Robber,” Mizzi said. “He’s got a little kiosk where he’s selling porcelain. He learned how to make porcelain while he was in jail. We were talking and he asked, ‘Where are you from?’ I said, ‘Toronto’ and he was like, ‘When I was robbing banks, one of my trips was to Toronto.’ I said, ‘Did you rob any banks there?’ And he was like, ‘No, I was on holiday.’ ”
Mizzi, 44, travels about two or three times a year (most often with the Rainman All-Stars out of Germany) whether for tournaments, pickup games, charity events, hockey camps, you name it. Along the way, he’s played with and against a bevy of former European pros, including ex-NHLers Jyrki Lumme and Michal Sivek, who was part of the Jaromir Jagr trade to the Washington Capitals in 2001. Even in Toronto, where Mizzi gets his hockey fix running his beer-league team, the Ghetto Blasters, he faces ex-pros often as a fill-in goalie for games with NHL alumni featuring the likes of Marcel Dionne, Wendel Clark and Brad May. “Somehow I always end up playing with these guys that are like, you know, they played really, really good hockey, and I’m just a beer-league dude,” Mizzi said. “It’s always a pleasure to be on the ice with former professional hockey players, but it’s an even bigger honor to get to talk to them and get a grasp of how it was to be in The Show.”
When he’s not playing the role of The Travelling Goalie, Mizzi funds his travels with work behind the scenes in film production, whether driving a food stylist truck or working as a production assistant for commercials or TV shows. He’s even been in a couple commercials himself – as a goalie, of course – including one for Budweiser.
With no kids and blessed with a patient and supportive longtime girlfriend, Mizzi is able to dump all his disposable income into his Bedouin backstopping lifestyle. He’s also garnered a handful of sponsorships, including Goalie Heaven in Toronto, which provides him with free gear and sticks. “That’s something that, to this day, people can’t grasp, that some guy is coming all the way from Canada with his goalie equipment just to play hockey,” Mizzi said. “They can’t grasp this. It’s like, ‘What do you mean? Why are you coming all the way here?’ ”
It may not be the NHL, but Mizzi feels like he’s living the dream – travelling the world and playing hockey. He names Kenya, Turkmenistan and Iran as upcoming destinations in 2019, but his next stop will be extra special, when he rings in the New Year Down Under. “Australia is the last inhabited continent for me,” Mizzi said. “I guess I could go on record and say I’m probably going to be the first goalie to play on every continent.”