Sbisa paving way for Swiss players
NOV 06, 2012 8:23a ET
His club affiliation has switched from the northern part of the country to the Italian-speaking south, and here, at HC Lugano, a glimpse can be offered of a handful of players who have made international impacts before their 20th birthday.
Alessio Bertaggia is the son of HC Lugano legend Sandro Bertaggia, whose retired No. 2 jersey commemorates the 18 years of service the defenseman gave the club. Alessio, a forward who has accumulated 70 points in 82 WHL games with the Brandon Wheat Kings, is a threat to break out at this year’s World Junior Championships after earning his due as an 18-year-old under-ager with the Swiss national junior team last December.
The Lugano family ties also bind Phillipe and 18-year-old Tim Bozon, the latter of whom is a 2012 Montreal Canadiens third round selection who has 31 points in 19 games for the Kamloops Blazers, who are 17-1-0-1 and Canada’s top-ranked junior team. The younger Bozon was better than a point-per-game producer with a Lugano junior team in 2010-11 before making the leap abroad. He’s tallied 50 goals and 102 points through his first 90 games in Kamloops.
And then there’s Luca Fazzini, who last Saturday scored one goal, assisted on another, and recorded a plus-three rating in a 9-0 win over Rapperswil-Jona, a team that prior to the blowout loss had been tied with Lugano with 29 points. He’ll have the opportunity to make Switzerland’s roster at both the Under-18 Championships and the World Junior Championships in the coming year.
While Fazzini will have the option to play in North America – hungry junior teams are likely to salivating over his rights at the next CHL import draft – he’s beginning to establish his competency at the professional level in Switzerland, where he’s already earning a paycheck. The 17-year-old has two goals, three points, and a plus-three rating in 12 NLA games.
But if he were to listen to Sbisa and follow the path of the emerging young stars who are vying to raise Switzerland’s status internationally, there are effective developmental grounds in North America.
“I think maybe [for] five, six seven years, we’ve left this isolation. We were always in Switzerland. We didn’t think we could make it over there, and then a few guys actually went over there, did a good job, and it kind of inspired a lot of young guys to go over there, and they’ve been doing really well. We’ve got [Calgary forward] Sven Baertschi, Bertaggia from here, [ Islanders forward] Nino Niederreiter — all those guys have been doing a really good job,” said Sbisa, who made his Swiss Olympic debut in 2010 as a junior hockey defenseman who had recently celebrated his 20th birthday.
“I’ve always said that there’s two ways you can go: either you establish yourself in this league first, become one of the best players and then you try it, or you go at the young age, what I did, too. I learned the North American game pretty early, and I think more guys are trying to go that way, and it’s been working for them.”
For Sbisa, several years of changing cities and jerseys while dealing with ebbing and flowing NHL confidence, the 22-year-old was more consistently able to exhibit his skills as one of the Anaheim Ducks’ most well-rounded defenseman, offering a preview of the trustworthy-in-all-situations capabilities of a career in bloom.
Fellow Swiss national team member and Anaheim goaltending backbone Jonas Hiller played an important role in Sbisa’s transition to Southern California following his inclusion in the trade that sent Chris Pronger to Philadelphia on the day of the NHL Draft in 2009.
“I didn’t know anyone,” Sbisa said of his new surroundings. “I knew Joffrey Lupul, the guy I got traded with. But other than that, I didn’t really know anyone. [Jonas] is a nice guy. I met him one time before that, just playing with the Flyers against the Ducks, and we hung out. We actually went for dinner. As soon as he heard I got traded, he gave me a call. He made my life real easy over there, introduced me to everyone and all that stuff.”
Appearing in 80 games for one club in one season – as he did in 2011-12 – was a first for Sbisa, who has also called rinks in Philadelphia, Syracuse, Portland, Oregon and Lethbridge, Alberta home over the last five seasons. It was also a motivating factor in why he quickly wanted to join an NLA team.
“For me, I mean I’m 22. I didn’t want to take the risk of not playing a full year,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll figure [the lockout] out and we’ll get the NHL started.
“But for me, I wanted to come over here as soon as possible. I think I had a good year last year. I took one step at a time, developed as a player and played better as the season went along. But I just wanted to keep going with that momentum I built last year, and for me it was important to come over here right away. It’s a great league. We’ve got a lot of star players that come over here, just like tonight.
“It’s a good level of hockey, and hopefully I can gain that one step that the other guys don’t have once the season starts up.”
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