Wednesday, October 20, 2010
On this date in 2002, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim rookie Martin Gerber earned his first NHL victory with a 3-2 overtime win over the visiting Colorado Avalanche. David Aebischer took the loss for Colorado in the first game in NHL history which featured two goaltenders from Switzerland facing each other.
While former Los Angeles King and New York Ranger Mark Hardy was born in Switzerland and technically became the first Swiss born player in the NHL, he was raised in Montreal, Canada and was not a product of the Swiss hockey system.
Conversely, Pauli Jaks was a product of the Swiss hockey system, his lone game in the NHL with the Kings in the 1994-95 season hardly qualifies him as the first successful Swiss player in the NHL either.
That designation must go to Aebischer, a native of Fribourg, Switzerland who was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche off the roster of HC Fribourg-Gotteron in the Swiss National League A. Following his drafting by the Avalanche, Aebischer came to North America and worked his way up from the ECHL to the AHL before making his NHL debut with Colorado in 2000-01 as a backup to Patrick Roy, where he was a member of the Stanley Cup champions, and became the first Swiss player to have his name engraved on the cup.
He would spend five seasons with Colorado, including becoming the Avalanche's number one goalie with 62 games played in 2003-04. He was subsequently traded to the Montreal Canadiens, where he played 32 games in 2006-07 and has subsequently returned to his native Switzerland where he currently plays for HC Lugano.
Aebischer has been a mainstay for the Switzerland National Team, having appeared in the World Junior Tournament in 1997 and 1998, where he won a bronze medal and was named the Top Goaltender, the World Championships in 1998, 1999, 2005, 2006 and 2007 as well as the Olympics in both 2002 and 2006.
Michel Riesen was also one of four Swiss players to debut in the same 2000-01 season, with a dozen games with the Edmonton Oilers in 2000-01, but quickly returned to Switzerland to continue his career. Reto Von Arx also tried his luck in North America following seven pro seasons in Switzerland, eventually playing 19 games with the Chicago Blackhawks before also returning to HC Davos back home. The fourth Swiss player to debut that season was Thomas Ziegler who registered five games with the Tampa Bay Lightning that same season before continuing his career with SC Bern.
Reto Von Arx
Gerber was the next Swiss arrival in 2002-03. Drafted in the eight round 232nd overall, Gerber was a longshot to make the NHL, but spent a year in Sweden before two seasons with the Mighty Ducks. Coming out of the NHL lockout of 2004-05, Gerber signed with the Carolina Hurricanes and went 38-14-6 in 60 games, but lost the first two games in the playoffs after returning from an intestinal flu and was replaced by rookie Cam Ward, who led the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup, making Gerber the second Swiss player to lift the cup, only not as the number one goalie he had been during the regular season.
With the emergence of Ward, Gerber found on the move and signed as a free agent with the Ottawa Senators. He would spend 2 1/2 seasons with Ottawa before being dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs where he would appear in 12 games in 2008-09. Without an NHL contract for 2009-10, Gerber moved over to the Russian KHL with Atlant Moscow. He signed with the Edmonton Oilers for the 2010-11 season, but did not make the parent club out of training camp and currently is playing for their top AHL affiliate in Oklahoma City. His 226 NHL games played currently ranks second all-time for Swiss trained players.
Julien Vauclair made a token appearance with one game with the Senators in 2003-04 followed by Timo Heibling's 11 games divided between the Tampa Bay Lightning (9 games) in 2005-06 and the Washington Capitals (2) in 2006-07.
Arguably the most successful Swiss player in the NHL also arrived in the 2005-06 season in the form of Mark Streit. Following three seasons with HC Davos in Switzerland, the undrafted Streit came over to North America and try is luck, rising as high as the Springfield Falcons of the AHL, but failed to crack the NHL and returned the following season to play with the ZSC Lions in Switzerland for four seasons before being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens 262nd overall in the ninth round. To date, four players from that draft have played in the NHL All-Star Game, #1 Alexander Ovechkin, #2 Evgeni Malkin, #29 Mike Green and Streit taken at #262!
Streit remained in Switzerland one more season following being drafted and then made his NHL debut with Montreal in 2005-06 after the resolution of the NHL lockout. The defenseman played three seasons in Montreal, including a career high of 62 points in 2007-08, a high for Swiss players in the NHL. He signed a five year contract with the New York Islanders in 2008, but has undergone shoulder surgery which may force him to miss the entire 2010-11 season. His 361 games leads all Swiss players in NHL history.
Internationally, Streit has played in two World Junior Championships in 1996 and 1997, ten consecutive World Championships starting in 1998 and the Olympics in 2002 and both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics as captain of the Switzerland National Team. In 2006, Streit scored the game winning goal against the Czech Republic and then helped shut out Canada 2-0 two days later.
Patrick Fischer (27 games with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2006-07), Tim Ramholt (1 game with the Calgary Flames in 2007-08), Tobias Stephan (11 games with the Dallas Stars between 2007-08 and 2008-09) and Yannick Weber (8 games with Montreal in 2008-09 and 2009-10) have all tried to become NHL regulars, but the most recently successful Swiss player is another goaltender, Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks, who made his NHL debut in the 2007-08 season.
Hiller appeared in 23 games that first season and raised that amount to 46 in 2008-09 before becoming the undisputed number one goalie for the Ducks when he made 59 appearances in 2009-10, which included 30 wins that season and became only the fourth Swiss-trained player to surpass 100 games in the NHL.
In 2010, Nino Niederreiter was selected fifth overall by the New York Islanders, making him the highest drafted Swiss player ever following his impressive showing at the 2010 World Junior Tournament, in which he scored the tying goal in the last minute of regulation against Russia before winning the game for Switzerland in overtime. Niederreiter made the Islanders roster out of training camp and made his NHL debut on October 9th and scored his first NHL goal against the Washington Capitals on October 13th.
Today's featured jersey is a 2002-03 Mighty Ducks of Anaheim Martin Gerber jersey as worn in the first NHL game to feature two Swiss goaltenders opposing each other in goal, a game won by the Mighty Ducks in which Gerber was the winning goalie.
The Mighty Ducks wore this style jersey from their debut in 1993 through 2006, with the only changes being the addition of secondary shoulder patches in 1996.
Bonus Jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 2004 Switzerland National Team Martin Gerber jersey as worn in the 2004 World Championships.
Switzerland's finest days in hockey, defeating first the Czech Republic and then Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics.
On being Swiss in the NHL.