Without David Aebischer, Switzerland would have nothing to brag about in World Junior hockey history. That’s a strong statement, but considering the Fribourg-born goalie led the Swiss to their only medal ever in 1998 (the bronze) with a stunning 1.58 GAA, it holds true. The intensely competitive 27-year-old has struggled with the Colorado Avalanche this season, and in all probability Martin Gerber, rather than Aebischer, will claim the number one job for Switzerland at the Turin Olympics. But the man once hailed as Patrick Roy’s successor can always cherish the memories of what he accomplished in Helsinki seven years ago. HockeyCanada.ca’s Lucas Aykroyd touched base with Aebischer recently.
HockeyCanada.ca: David, do you find it strange that with all the young, talented players Switzerland has developed recently, more of them haven’t made a big splash in either North American pro or international hockey?
David Aebischer: Yeah, it is a little strange. Maybe it has something to do with the attitude of some players. In the back of their heads, they always think: "If it doesn't work out, I can always play in Switzerland." They still make good money there. I think other countries don't have that as much. So I think that's been the biggest problem.
HockeyCanada.ca: What direction would you like the Swiss hockey program to take?
Aebischer: I think we have to look forward. We have to try to get to Number Seven. If we don't take that approach, we're going to fall back down. Our hockey program has to keep improving, from coaching to everything else.
HockeyCanada.ca: What memories do you associate with the World Juniors?
Aebischer: I played in two World Juniors. The first one was in Switzerland, and it was a lot of fun to play in my home country. But my best memories come from the second one, where we won bronze. We maybe didn't have a strong team on paper, but somehow we bonded perfectly. Everybody was supporting everybody else. We were good buddies, and we fed off that. We played over our heads. Sometimes that's the nice thing about being in a short tournament. I think I played all the games but one.
HockeyCanada.ca: You tied the Russians and then beat the Swedes and Czechs in extra time during the 1998 playoff round. Which of those games was the toughest?
Aebischer: I think against the Swedes, that was really special. In the second period, we had to kill off a 5-on-3 Swedish power play, and Julien Vauclair did a great job on defense--he played a little bit later on for Ottawa. Somehow, over the course of two minutes, we kept the puck out of the net. We scored with about two minutes left in the game to tie it, and then it ended up in a shootout that went to nine or ten shooters. So we won it, and it was special, because I think that was my biggest win in the World Juniors.
HockeyCanada.ca: Will you keep track of the tournament in Vancouver this year?
Aebischer: Yeah, of course. Everyone is rooting for his country. I'm always interested in how the Swiss are doing. Unfortunately over the last three or four World Juniors we didn't do as well as expected, but hopefully this year we'll get to the medal round and maybe upset a good team.
HockeyCanada.ca: What do you know about this year’s Swiss roster coming in?
Aebischer: Not much. It's really tough to follow. It's not like in Canada, where you can see all the stats of the junior players easily. You know a couple of players who play in the First Division, but that's about it. Every year it's a bit of a surprise as far as who makes the team.
HockeyCanada.ca: How tough will it be for the Swiss to adjust to the smaller North American ice surface?
Aebischer: I think it shouldn't be a big problem. The Swiss will come here a few weeks early and practice on the smaller ice and play a few games on it, so they'll be used to it.
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