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NHL goalie Aebischer stays in touch with his roots

David Aebischer has become the most recognised Swiss hockey player

(Keystone)

Swiss goalkeeper David Aebischer dreamed as a child of joining North America’s famed National Hockey League, a wish that came true four years ago.

swissinfo caught up with Aebischer during his annual summer holiday back home with friends and family.

The goaltender has made a name for himself at the Colorado Avalanche franchise. His first season with the club as its replacement netminder saw him win the Stanley Cup in 2001.

He took over as the Avalanche’s number one netminder last season after the legendary Patrick Roy retired. Nicknamed “Abby” by the Denver fans, he is now considered by some observers to be among the NHL’s best keepers.

But despite his newfound reputation, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from, nor his family and friends in Fribourg.

As in previous summers, he is back home preparing for the next season with his old club, Fribourg-Gottéron. He doesn’t know yet, though, when he will make the return trip to Denver.

Trouble is brewing over salaries in the NHL, with team owners threatening to delay or cancel the upcoming season if a deal cannot be found with players’ representatives over wage conditions.

The owners decreed a lockout in June, and some franchises have laid off staff until an agreement can be found.

swissinfo: David Aebischer, you came back to Switzerland in June. Have you been putting your feet up since then?

David Aebischer: No, I’ve already forgotten about my time off. I’ve been preparing for next season for the past two months.

In July I took part in a goalies camp in Verbier, as I have done for the past ten years. It’s the best training camp in Europe, if not in the world.

And I’ve just started training with Fribourg at the local ice rink. If I have some time left over, and if the weather’s alright, I like to play golf or go walking.

swissinfo: You’ve come back to Fribourg each summer for the past four years. Is it a way of recharging your batteries?

D.A.: I lived here for nearly 20 years. My family and friends are here too. It’s also an opportunity for me to clear my head. In the United States, I am totally focused on hockey during the season.

swissinfo: After six years in North America, do you still feel Swiss or have you become more of an American?

D.A.: I still feel very Swiss. But it’s true, I’ve become used to the American lifestyle. Over there, you can go shopping 24 hours a day if you feel like buying something. I sometimes forget you can’t do that in Switzerland.

swissinfo: In Switzerland, you are considered to be the player who opened the gates to the NHL for others. Are you proud of this?

D.A.: I’m proud, not because I am Swiss, but because I fulfilled my dream. Four years ago, I played my first NHL game, and since last season I am the number one goalkeeper of one of the league’s best franchises.

swissinfo: Has the way people look at you changed?

D.A.: In Switzerland, people leave you alone. In the States, it’s the exact opposite. People don’t hesitate to come up to you and ask questions.

Since I’ve become the number one netminder at Colorado, I also often don’t have to pay for meals in restaurants.

swissinfo: How was your first season as the number one keeper?

D.A.: I was a bit nervous taking over from Patrick Roy, but I was confident in my ability. I also had the confidence of my teammates, and the spectators were very supportive.

It was an exceptional season, even though I would have liked to go further in the play-offs.

swissinfo: Pierre Lacroix, Colorado’s general manager, was pleased with your performances. He renewed your contract, saying that you were one of the NHL’s best goalies. That’s mighty praise, isn’t it?

D.A.: It’s the kind of thing you like to hear. I’ll have to repeat last year’s performances, and hope the season starts when it should.

It’s hard to say if the lockout will end soon. Both sides are still negotiating and any agreement will probably be reached only at the last minute.

The players would like to be on the ice as planned, but we players have to fight for our rights and the rights of those who will play later in the NHL.

Personally, I will make up my mind by the middle of September. A camp is planned around then in Denver. If the lockout goes on, I will consider other solutions in Switzerland, but also elsewhere in Europe.

swissinfo: Some North American players have already signed contracts with Swiss clubs. Davos has reached an agreement with a third NHL player. Could we see your teammate Joe Sakic turn up in Fribourg?

D.A.: I don’t think Joe will be crossing the Atlantic. He’s starting to get on and he needs more holidays than me. But younger players could take up that option.

Swiss hockey could benefit from this situation, even if it only last a couple of months. Local spectators would get to see players they could never watch under normal circumstances.

swissinfo: If the lockout dragged on, you could return to the national team. Since the Olympic games in Salt Lake City in 2002, you have not represented Switzerland.

D.A.: If I have the opportunity, I would like to play for the national side. But the Colorado Avalanche remain my number one priority.

swissinfo: Your predecessor, Patrick Roy, played until he was 37. How do you see your future?

D.A.: I hope to play for a NHL franchise until I’m 35 or 36 years old. Then I wouldn’t mind playing another year or two in Switzerland.

swissinfo-interview: Raphael Donzel

Key facts

David Aebischer was born in Geneva on February 7, 1978.
He played his first game in the Swiss hockey league's top division with Fribourg-Gottéron during the 1996-1997 season.
He left for the US in 1997 and became Colorado's top goalkeeper in 2003.
He has just signed a new contract worth $2.5 million (SFr3.1 million) for one season.

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