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Patrice Bergeron poses with Bruins teammate Tyler Seguin after a game between Lugano and Biel. (Photo by Felix A. Eicher)
In a perfect world, Patrice Bergeron would have been gearing up for the Bruins’ first home game of the 2012 preseason against the Capitals on Oct. 3. The matchup would have marked hockey’s return to TD Garden on a day more than five months removed from the Black and Gold’s shocking Game 7 loss to that same Caps squad in the opening round of last year’s playoffs.
But rather than making the trek from his nearby residence to Causeway Street and spending the afternoon focusing on what elements of his game he’d need to fine-tune in preparation for his ninth season in the National Hockey League, Bergeron was busy driving from his home in Quebec City back to Boston to catch an upcoming flight out of Logan International Airport.
His destination? Lugano, a city in the south of Switzerland located nearly 4,000 miles from the Hub of Hockey.Just one day prior to the tilt that never was against Washington, the 27-year-old center signed a contract with HC Lugano of Switzerland’s National League A, coming to terms with the club on the 17th day of the NHL lockout. In doing so, Bergeron became the ninth member of the Bruins to head overseas.
“I decided on Switzerland for a lot of reasons,” Bergeron said. “I spoke to a lot of guys that played there before over the summer and they had nothing but good things to say about the league, the pace, the speed of it and about the country. It was an easy decision once the offer came on the table.”
Bergeron, of course, has been to Europe before, including when the Bruins opened their 2010-11 season in Prague, Czech Republic. Packing for this trip, however, was obviously a much different task.
“You’re not necessarily sure how long it’s going to be,” Boston’s longtime alternate captain said. “You’ve also got the airplane issue; you can’t really bring too much. I just tried to be smart and have everything I need. And you’re in Switzerland. It’s obviously a great country, so if you need something, you can just go and buy it.”
Bruins teammate Rich Peverley, who is suiting up for JYP Jyvaskyla in Finland’s SM-liiga, tried to keep from thinking about the uncertainty surrounding the duration of his stay.
|Rich Peverley is playing for JYP Jyvaskyla during the lockout. (Photo by Jari Pekkarinen)|
“Yeah, it’s definitely a process,” said Peverley. “You’ve got to kind of prepare. You have to prepare that you’re going to be gone the whole time. That’s the way I’m looking at it right now.”
So far, Peverley and Bergeron have been enjoying their new living situations, as both received a great amount of help from each of their teams in getting situated.
“I’m in a two-bedroom apartment now, so if there’s family coming over, they can stay here, but I know it’s a long ways for them to come and visit,” said Bergeron. “The team helped me a lot with finding a place, getting a rental car, getting to know my way around the city and getting used to the new roads and everything. The players have also been pretty great here, so the adjustment’s going well.”
A frequenter of restaurants throughout Boston’s North End, Bergeron said he’s quite impressed with the Swiss cuisine.
“The food is great,” the reigning Selke Trophy winner said. “It’s actually really good. Switzerland’s known for being great for a lot of things, obviously chocolate and cheese, which I’m trying to stay away from. It’s also the quality of the food; it’s something that they’re known for. There’s lots of organic products here and I’m loving it.”
But for all the benefits and experiences the two Bruins forwards have enjoyed so far in their separate nations, there are still challenges.
“I’m in the Italian part of Switzerland,” said Bergeron. “Switzerland’s known for the diversity of the country, also. They speak French, Italian, German and some English. So I’m in the Italian part of it, and obviously I don’t know anything about Italian. I get around using my French, so I’m lucky with that. If you go downtown, most of the stores and restaurants speak a little English so, so far it’s been good.”
Peverley doesn’t know a lick of Finnish, but luckily he’s playing alongside two former NHL teammates in Ramzi Abid and former UVM standout Eric Perrin.
“It hasn’t been too bad,” said Peverley. “Actually, I knew two players from earlier in my career and that’s really helped me with making the adjustment. Knowing two guys, especially Eric Perrin who’s played in Finland now for four or five years, he knows the language. Most of the Finnish guys are really good people, so it’s been great.”
Peverley was at a bit of a disadvantage upon arriving in Jyvaskyla. JYP’s season was already under way, forcing the winger to try to get caught up to speed as quickly as possible.
“They had a month and a half of training camp, and I had one practice before getting into a game,” said Peverley, who had seven points through his first eight games overseas. “The first game, I was definitely behind, but after that I definitely felt like I got my feet wet and have been playing better.”
Bergeron, meanwhile, hit the ground running. The skilled center had 11 points and a plus-9 rating through his first five games for Lugano. He believes having Ontario native Larry Huras — a one-time Providence Red who spent time in the NHL with the Rangers — behind the bench has helped make the transition a smooth one.
“It’s a different league, a different system and bigger ice, but it’s been going well,” said Bergeron. “I’m playing for Larry Huras, that’s our coach, and he’s played in North America. So his system is similar to what we play back home. But the adjustment’s been going well with my teammates. They’ve been helping me getting used to the new system and everything, and so far I like it.”
Bergeron isn’t the only player in the Swiss-A league who hockey fans in New England are familiar with. The pivot’s Bruins linemate, Tyler Seguin, is playing in Biel, roughly a three-hour drive from Lugano. After a tough debut that saw him sport a minus-4 rating, Boston’s top point-getter in 2011-12 picked up the pace and had 10 points through his first nine games.
There’s also a pair of New England natives who joined the league well in advance of the lockout. Former BC standout Ryan Shannon (Darien, Conn.) is playing for Zurich and ranked third on the club in points through the first month of the season. Greg Mauldin, who spent three years at UMass (2001-04), is in his second stint overseas. The Holliston, Mass., native went over to Sweden for the 2006-07 campaign before coming back to North America and eventually seeing extended time in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche.
|Greg Mauldin poses for a photo in the Alps.|
“My agent knew a couple of teams were interested in me, and he said that Switzerland would be the best place for me to go,” said Mauldin, who signed on with HC Fribourg in July. “There’s a real competitive import level.”
Mauldin, much like Bergeron did in his situation, asked those familiar with the league for their insight. Fellow UMass alumnus and former roommate Thomas Pock, an Austrian-born defenseman who spent two seasons playing in Switzerland, gave the league and the country a ringing endorsement. But Pock’s advice wasn’t all that Mauldin relied on in deciding to head to Europe again.
“When I first talked to my agent, I (essentially knew) the lockout was going to happen,” said Mauldin, who was obviously intent on working his way back to the NHL after spending the entire 2011-12 season in the American Hockey League. “Once I knew that, I kind of changed my mind and focused on coming over here.”
While Mauldin and the rest of the Players’ Association might not have needed a crystal ball to foresee a work stoppage, that might be exactly what’s required for anyone to accurately predict when the lockout will conclude and the NHL will reopen its doors.
“Obviously you try to stay as aware as you can and try to read up on it as much as you can,” Bergeron said when asked if it was challenging to keep up with all the latest twists and turns in the negotiations. “The (NHLPA) has done a good job of getting the information to us and I think I’m as aware as I would be back home. The only thing that’s missing is obviously the reporters and media that do their segment every day on TV or in the local papers that I can’t see. But with the PA, I’m staying on top of it.”
Peverley isn’t outright avoiding keeping tabs on all the developments, but he recognizes that spending too much time doing so will prove fruitless.
“I’m not really thinking about it,” the fleet-footed forward said. “We have a home in Boston now and we really love the time we do spend in Boston, but I think if you keep thinking it’ll get over at a certain time and it doesn’t, then it might be a big letdown. I’m trying to enjoy my time here and living in the moment. I think I’ve done well with that approach. You’ll drive yourself crazy if you think it’s going to get done and it doesn’t.”
Asked for what his gut feeling is on when the lockout will get resolved, Bergeron sounded cautiously optimistic.
“Yeah, that’s the million dollar question, obviously,” he said. “It’s hard to answer. All we want is to get a fair deal for both sides and I hope it’s going to be soon. As much I like it here in Lugano and I’m trying to help the team as much as I can, I want to be in Boston. That’s my priority. Hopefully it’s soon and we’ll see what’s going to happen.”
In the interim, the budding tri-linguist and the rest of his Bruins comrades across the pond will do their best to stay ready.
But for now, they’d be wise to follow Peverley’s lead and try to enjoy every aspect of their unique overseas experiences. If Bergeron wanted my advice, I’d start with caving in and indulging in a little Swiss cioccolato.
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
Jesse Connolly is the Bruins beat writer for New England Hockey Journal and is the editor of hockeyjournal.com.