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Swiss ice hockey star steps out of the shadows

David Aebischer training in Verbier during the summer

(swissinfo.ch)

After six years of playing ice hockey in the United States, Fribourg-born David Aebischer has reached the high point of his career to date.

swissinfo caught up with him as he prepares to take up the number one goalkeeping spot at the title-chasing Colorado Avalanche.

Aebischer was the first Swiss player to seal a permanent position in the National Hockey League (NHL) – the North American ice hockey league.

Since then, Martin Gerber, another goaltender who plays for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, has joined him in the championship.

When the league starts its new season on Wednesday, Aebischer will be standing between the pipes for the Denver-based Avalanche.

He will move into the coveted position after spending three years understudying the famous French-Canadian goaltender, Patrick Roy.

swissinfo: After six years in the United States you are about to begin your most challenging season.

David Aebischer: Yes, it’s true. There will be a lot of pressure. But ever since I first arrived in the US, at the age of 19, my goal has been to become the number one goalkeeper for a team in the NHL.

After three good seasons as substitute goalkeeper for Patrick Roy, the opportunity I had been waiting for finally came along. And what’s more, it was at one of the best teams in the North American championships.

It’s not easy to follow in the footsteps of someone of Roy’s class. But I learnt a lot from him and it’s my turn now to prove I can handle the responsibility.

swissinfo: Your team have also signed up the Canadian Paul Kariya and the Finn Teemu Selanne. The Avalanche now have a wealth of star players and have their sights on a new title. Are you under a lot of pressure?

D.A.: It’s true: we have an even better team than last year’s. But in a club like Colorado, there is always pressure because the aim is always to be the best.

I’ve always thought it more interesting to play for an ambitious club, and I find the pressure stimulating. I can handle it.

I have realised, however, that I need to be confident in order to start the season well. I know that if I play well, the team will win. But if I don’t improve on my current best, everything will be much harder. But I can assure you, I have no problem with motivation.

swissinfo: You trained during the summer in Switzerland on the ice in Verbier, under the watchful eye of goalkeeping trainer, François Allaire. Why was that?

D.A.: I must be ready to give 100 per cent from the very first match. I’ve been coming to Verbier for years. The training does me good. It is one of the only camps run exclusively for goalkeepers, which allows us to work more specifically on our technique.

François Allaire was Patrick Roy’s trainer, and it was his training that allowed [Roy] to reach the level he has managed to maintain for some time. I’ve known François Allaire for longer than I’ve known Patrick Roy. Both have taught me a lot.

François has given me the best basic technique possible, using his “butterfly” style. Patrick taught me to develop my mental strength: he showed me how to come to each game and training session in full possession of my faculties, and how to continually improve my game.

swissinfo: You then returned to Denver to attend the pre-season training camp. How was that?

D.A.: I’m already used to attending this rather special camp. All the players arrive with one idea in their heads: to get a place in the team. This year it was particularly special because I was attending as the number one goalkeeper.

Generally speaking, I feel settled in Denver. I’ve bought a house there and made new friends. Even though my family is in Switzerland, I feel at home in Denver.

swissinfo: How do you feel about the path you’ve chosen?

D.A.: I am quite proud of the direction I’ve taken. And I think I’ve always made the right choices. If I had the chance to do it all again, I would take exactly the same route. Although I would have perhaps gone to the United States earlier.

If you go there at 16 or 17, you are able to attract attention sooner, to get noticed and to tap into a different mentality to that in Switzerland.

Pauli Jaks, Michel Riesen, Reto von Arx, Thomas Ziegler, and now Martin Gerber at Anaheim and me at Denver - we’re showing others the way. It’s a bit easier for young Swiss ice hockey players to get their break in the wake of our success as the talent scouts are looking out for them. The most important thing is to believe in yourself.

swissinfo-interview: Mathias Froidevaux (translation: Joanne Shields)

Key facts

Davis Aebischer has already played in 69 National Hockey League matches.
In 2001 he became the first Swiss to win the prestigious Stanley Cup with his team, the Colorado Avalanche.
Aebischer went to the United States at the age of 19, where he started off playing in minor leagues for three seasons.

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