LUGANO, Switzerland Six years aftermaking his National League A debut as a 16-year-old for local outfit EC Zug, the NHL lockout has taken well-traveled Anaheim Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa back to a fertile breeding ground for one ofhockey's accelerating national programs.
His clubaffiliation has switched from the northern part of the country to the Italian-speakingsouth, and here, at HC Lugano, a glimpse can be offered of a handful of playerswho have made international impacts before their 20th birthday.
AlessioBertaggia is the son of HC Lugano legend Sandro Bertaggia, whose retired No. 2jersey commemorates the 18 years of service the defenseman gave the club.Alessio, a forward who has accumulated 70 points in 82 WHL games with theBrandon Wheat Kings, is a threat to break out at this years World JuniorChampionships after earning his due as an 18-year-old under-ager with the Swiss nationaljunior team last December.
The Luganofamily ties also bind Phillipe and 18-year-old Tim Bozon, the latter of whom isa 2012 Montreal Canadiens third round selection who has 31 pointsin 19 games for the Kamloops Blazers, who are 17-1-0-1 and Canadas top-rankedjunior team. The younger Bozon was better than a point-per-game producer with aLugano junior team in 2010-11 before making the leap abroad. Hes tallied 50goals and 102 points through his first 90 games in Kamloops.
And thentheres 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 thatprior to the blowout loss had been tied with Lugano with 29 points. Hell havethe opportunity to make Switzerlands roster at both the Under-18 Championshipsand the World Junior Championships in the coming year.
WhileFazzini will have the option to play in North America hungry junior teams arelikely to salivating over his rights at the next CHL import draft hesbeginning to establish his competency at the professional level in Switzerland,where hes already earning a paycheck. The 17-year-old has two goals, threepoints, and a plus-three rating in 12 NLA games.
But if hewere to listen to Sbisa and follow the path of the emerging young stars who arevying to raise Switzerlands status internationally, there are effectivedevelopmental grounds in North America.
I thinkmaybe for five, six seven years, weve left this isolation. We were always inSwitzerland. We didnt think we could make it over there, and then a few guysactually went over there, did a good job, and it kind of inspired a lot ofyoung guys to go over there, and theyve been doing really well. Weve gotCalgary forward Sven Baertschi, Bertaggia from here, Islanders forward NinoNiederreiter 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 hadrecently celebrated his 20th birthday.
Ive alwayssaid that theres two ways you can go: either you establish yourself in thisleague first, become one of the best players and then you try it, or you go atthe 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 its been working forthem.
For Sbisa, severalyears 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 AnaheimDucks most well-rounded defenseman, offering a preview of thetrustworthy-in-all-situations capabilities of a career in bloom.
Fellow Swissnational team member and Anaheim goaltending backbone Jonas Hiller played animportant role in Sbisas transition to Southern California following hisinclusion in the trade that sent Chris Pronger to Philadelphia on the day ofthe NHL Draft in 2009.
I didntknow anyone, Sbisa said of his new surroundings. I knew Joffrey Lupul, theguy I got traded with. But other than that, I didnt really know anyone.Jonas is a nice guy. I met him one time before that, just playing with theFlyers against the Ducks, and we hung out. We actually went for dinner. As soonas he heard I got traded, he gave me a call. He made my life real easy overthere, introduced me to everyone and all that stuff.
Appearing in80 games for one club in one season as he did in 2011-12 was a first forSbisa, who has also called rinks in Philadelphia, Syracuse, Portland, Oregonand Lethbridge, Alberta home over the last five seasons. It was also amotivating factor in why he quickly wanted to join an NLA team.
For me, Imean Im 22. I didnt want to take the risk of not playing a full year, he said.Hopefully theyll figure the lockout out and well get the NHL started.
But for me,I wanted to come over here as soon as possible. I think I had a good year lastyear. I took one step at a time, developed as a player and played better as theseason went along. But I just wanted to keep going with that momentum I builtlast year, and for me it was important to come over here right away. Its agreat league. Weve got a lot of star players that come over here, just liketonight.
Its a goodlevel of hockey, and hopefully I can gain that one step that the other guysdont have once the season starts up.