TORONTO-After playing his last four seasons in his home country of Switzerland, former NHL goalie David Aebischer is back in North America looking for a second chance.
Now 33, Aebischer is playing with the St. John’s IceCaps (Winnipeg Jets affiliate) of the American Hockey League with the optimistic view he can play again in the NHL.
“I came over here this summer. I really wanted to come back to North America,” said Aebischer. “It was tough to find a job somewhere but the Jets gave me a chance to show what I had at camp. It was great.”
The native of Fribourg, Switzerland was originally drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in 1997 and started his North American career with their then affiliate, the Hershey Bears.
He finally entered the NHL in 2000 as a back up to Patrick Roy; earning a Stanley Cup ring his rookie season.
In 2003, upon Roy’s retirement, he took over as number one in goal and put up a career best 32 wins with a 2.09 GAA and .924 SV%.
Those numbers were never matched however, and in 2006 he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens where he played 32 games serving a full season as Christobel Huet’s back up.
In 2008 he signed with the Phoenix Coyotes looking for a fresh start. Unfortunately, he lost out on a roster spot and ended up back in the AHL, for the first time since 2000, with the San Antonio Rampage.
Never feeling the Coyotes gave him a chance to prove his abilities in goal, Aebischer found himself out of the NHL and envisioning Europe as his only destination.
“I got sent down after just one game that I didn’t play too bad,” said Aebischer. “My camp wasn’t so good so they sent me to the minors and I didn’t even play in the minors. They put me in the stands. Pretty much wanted me to go to Europe so at the end I had no choice. They forced me kind of. But that’s the way it is. I would have loved another two or three games more to have a better chance, but hey you can’t change it.”
Aebischer played five games that season with the San Antonio Rampage before being loaned to HC Lugano of the Swiss-A League.
Returning home should have been welcoming, instead, being the first Swiss born goalie to wear a Stanley Cup ring and having over 200 games played in the top league in the world made it difficult to play to realistic standards.
“I think the first year I came back, pretty much it should have been zero or one goal against every game. Of course that didn’t happen,” said Aebischer. “The expectations were maybe too high, I don’t know sometimes a little bit crazy. If the team did bad, the first guy to put in question was usually the coach or the goalie. And I think with my name over in Switzerland I took abuse when I shouldn’t.”
It never got any better for Aebischer after his first year back and four seasons of under producing made it difficult to transition back to North American when the time came.
“It was a tough couple years in Switzerland with a team with high expectations, we under achieved pretty much every year and that was tough,” said Aebischer. “It’s tough mentally, tough for your confidence. I had a tough start here. I think I took a little bit of baggage with me, but lately I’ve been playing confident, much better and I like the way I’ve played lately.”
In 13 games this season, Aebischer is 8-3-1 with a 2.62 GAA and .907 SV%. While nothing in his future is guaranteed, he is happy to be living on the east coast of Canada where it’s different then places past and offers him another shot.
“I like St. John’s. It’s pretty much a totally different experience for me. I’ve lived in many places in North America before but St. John’s is unique.”
Aebischer sits fourth on the current Jets depth chart as Ondrej Pavelec , Chris Mason and Peter Mannino are all ahead of him.
Whether it’s his play alone that catches the eye of the Jets, or if he gets some help from injuries or poor play, he’s hoping that soon he will be back in the NHL.
And, being in St John’s has him closer to that goal.
“I think making the NHL was the ultimate goal the first time I came over and it’s no different right now,” said Aebischer. “Being in St John’s, my dream of being back in the NHL is closer now then it was a year ago.”