WHEN Mount Waverley resident Emily Paton started planning a trip to Europe last year, hockey was the last thing on her mind.
Then her friend Hannah Cohen got an offer to play hockey with leading Dutch team HGS Hockey.
The thought of playing overseas hadn't occurred to Paton, so on the advice of Cohen, she sent an email to the coach of HGS, one night later she had a free plane fare, accommodation and a casual junior coaching job with the club.
The 24-year-old defender joined Cohen at HGS and the pair got a season-long stint with the respected Dutch club, experiencing the professionalism and passion for the sport in the hockey-mad Netherlands.
"Hannah put the idea in my head because we were going to do some travelling anyway," Paton said. "The coach asked for my hockey resume, then emailed me back and said 'we want you'.
"It all sort of happened overnight."
Paton said her time in Holland tested her skills and determination but had proven an unforgettable experience as the side made it all the way to the four-way play-offs for a place in the Dutch first-class competition [top league] although they missed out on making it to the top competition.
On first impressions Paton feared she could be in over her head.
"I had a broken toe when I first got there so I couldn't train for the first few weeks," she said.
"When I watched the first training session I got a bit nervous because the standard was really good, far better than the standard of club sides here - I was a little bit daunted.
"The standard there is closer to that of the weaker state teams here although there are no weak links on the field."
While her nerves jumped around off the field, when Paton started playing and training with HGS she quickly got up to standard. Although she said her lack of language skills was shown up by her opponents and even the umpires.
"Of all the countries I've visited, the Dutch were the best English speakers," she said.
"There was really no language barrier, I didn't really learn any Dutch aside from a few on-field words because so many foreign players have played in the league in the past, when the umpires heard me talk they would also speak in English to me."
Paton stayed with family associated with the club, which she loved, and in between games and trainings, she and Cohen took short trips around Europe. When HGS's season finished, Paton and Cohen set off on a two-month backpacking holiday, eventually visiting 25 countries.
Paton returned to Melbourne in July and has since joined up with her local club, Waverley, and also won a place with the Victorian Vipers, alongside Cohen, for the Australian Hockey League tournament in Perth this October.
"All in all it was a pretty good way to combine hockey, travel and a gap year," Paton said.