The world's most important ice hockey league gets underway this week but the attention of Swiss fans will be focused on just three players. No Swiss national has ever played a full game in the NHL. But that is about to change.This content was published on October 3, 2000 - 07:42
David Aebischer, Reto von Arx and Michel Riesen are the three men competing to make ice hockey history. The only Swiss player to have stepped onto NHL ice before them was goalkeeper Pauli Jaks, who played for just two periods in a 1995 game between the LA Kings and Chicago.
Riesen is expected to play a good deal more than two periods with the Edmonton Oilers after being told on Monday by head coach Craig MacTavish that he had been included in the starting line-up for Friday's game against Detroit.
The former Biel player earned his shot at the big time after finishing last season as top scorer for the Oilers' farm club, the Hamilton Bulldogs. In pre-season training he impressed the Edmonton management staff with four goals and two assists.
On Friday he is expected to play on the left wing alongside his pre-season line partners, Brian Swanson and Dan Cleary.
Although Riesen looks likely to be the first Swiss player to complete a match in the NHL, he could theoretically be pipped to the post by either Aebischer or von Arx.
Aebischer has been named as the back-up goalie for the Colorado Avalanche. But although he is expected to play around 20 NHL games this season, first choice goalie Patrick Roy is almost certain to be chosen for Wednesday's season opener in Dallas.
Three time winner of the Stanley Cup, Roy is regarded as one of the best keepers in NHL history, and is just four wins away from overtaking the all-time record of legendary goalie Terry Sawchuk, who recorded a staggering 447 victories.
Von Arx has been one of the biggest pre-season surprises anywhere in the NHL. Only drafted into the league in the ninth round, the Swiss national captain put in several great performances for Chicago, adding to the selection headache of head coach Alpo Suhonen.
The Finnish coach will name his final squad for the season on Wednesday, with three forwards expected to be relegated to Chicago's AHL farm club, the Norfolk Admirals.
If von Arx avoids the drop, and if Aebischer is kept out of the Colorado goal by Roy, the 24-year-old forward could beat Riesen into the NHL record books.
Whichever permutation occurs, the North American season is already guaranteed to be the greatest ever for Switzerland, with more Swiss players than ever before making the NHL draft.
Arne Ramholt, Thomas Ziegler and Timo Helbling were unable to win places in this week's NHL squads but will have the chance to impress in the lower leagues of the AHL and IHL.
Luca Cereda was the only Swiss player from the draft to be sent home early. After being diagnosed with a heart irregularity, Cereda had to undergo an operation which will keep him out of action for at least three months.
swissinfo with agencies