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North American imports find home with Swiss team

Thursday, 09.04.2008 / 9:00 AM / NHL Premiere

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

There was never a night that Simon Gamache sat up in bed envisioning what it would be like to play professional hockey in Switzerland.

Like any other Canadian kid who was handed a pair of skates, a stick and a puck as a toddler, Gamache had the NHLin his thoughts, scoring the game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in his dreams.

"The NHL will always be my dream," Gamache told NHL.com.

It's just not his reality, nor is it for Christian Dubé, Travis Roche, Sebastien Bordeleau or Ramzi Abid. SC Bern's five North American imports, who will all skate in an exhibition home game against the New York Rangers on Sept. 30, used to live, eat and breathe the NHL. Now they study it from afar, but their lives are still pretty sweet and way less stressful.

"When you're over there (North America) playing for a team on a call-up basis you are squeezing your stick, a little tight and a little intimidated," Roche told NHL.com. "Now, I look at it as if we're the guys that have been there before so we can be a little looser and feel like we're kind of the go-to guys, as opposed to being a call-up or fill-in."

Bordeleau is the only one of the quintet that played extensively in the NHL.

Prior to joining SC Bern in 2002 and becoming a top-line player, Bordeleau played in 251 NHL games over seven seasons with stints in Montreal, Nashville, Phoenix and Minnesota. He was Nashville's fourth leading scorer with 40 points in 1998-99, the organization's inaugural season.

Dubé was drafted in the second round by the Rangers, but played sparingly over three seasons before joining HC Lugano of the Swiss league in 1999. He's been one of the league's top players ever since.

The rest of the imports are relative newcomers to the Swiss league.

Gamache, a former Atlanta Thrashers late-round pick, bounced around the American Hockey League and the NHL for five seasons before joining SC Bern in 2006. He was given another crack in the NHL last season with Toronto, but lasted 11 games before being released. He signed back on with SC Bern, and now says he has "crossed out the NHL" from his thoughts.

"Simon is a top three forward in the Swiss league, but he's not big, he's not fast, and he's not overly powerful," SC Bern coach John Van Boxmeer told NHL.com. "Simon's best attribute is hockey sense and an unbelievable compete level. Over here, that really makes him stand out. In the NHL, he had to do those things against guys that are much bigger and stronger and faster."

Abid came to SC Bern last season after splitting time between the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL and Nashville in 2006-07. He also played for Atlanta, Phoenix and Pittsburgh, totaling 68 games of NHL experience.

Roche joined SC Bern this season. The former University of North Dakota star played 50 games with the Coyotes in 2006-07, but spent all of last season in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage. He spent all or part of his first five pro seasons in the AHL, and just couldn't envision himself going back for another go-round. But he did leave himself an out-clause in his contract this year just in case an NHL team calls.

"Always wondering about getting called up, it just weighs on your mind," Roche said of his AHL days. "You hear a lot of things at the NHL level. Some are true and some aren't, but you have false hopes and expectations, so it just weighs on you. I feel like I aged an extra 10 years playing seven years in the league. I loved every minute of it, but it was time to come over here and give my body and mind a break for a little while."

That's exactly what playing in Switzerland has done for Gamache and Abid. Bordeleau and Dubé enjoyed their initial experience so much that they continued to sign contracts. In fact, Dubé is just entering the first year of a new four-year deal.

"I've accomplished great things," said Dubé, who is technically not an imported player because he lived in Switzerland for 12 years as a child when his father was playing and coaching there. "I'm happy with my life."

"When you're over there (North America) playing for a team on a call-up basis you are squeezing your stick, a little tight and a little intimidated. Now, I look at it as if we're the guys that have been there before so we can be a little looser and feel like we're kind of the go-to guys, as opposed to being a call-up or fill-in."
-- Travis Roche

"They don't have to fight and claw for a contract, be up and down all the time, and take the grind of 82 games," Van Boxmeer said. "In the NHL, eventually you're always scratching and clawing just to hang on. That's life in the NHL, but over here they are production guys."

They're also team leaders, which reminds them of their younger days in North America when they were dominant players and big-time prospects.

Gamache and Dubé each won the CHL Player of the Year award. Roche was an NCAA West First-Team All-American and a national champion. Abid was the MVP of the QMJHL. Bordeleau was the top scorer in the 1995 Memorial Cup.

"It's two different worlds between the Swiss players and the imports," Gamache said. "The imports are supposed to be the leaders, supposed to be No. 1 every night. They expect a lot from us, but they pay us well, too, so it works both ways."

The lifestyle suits them, too.

Gamache talked about how important it is for him to be home on a nightly basis because of his new baby, and SC Bern rarely has overnight road trips. The imports are also given apartments and cars by the team. They also have less of a grind because they play only 50 regular-season games over a seven-month span instead of 82.

"I am loving it right now," Gamache said. "It would be tough to go to the AHL. That's what it is. If you don't want me in the NHL, I'd rather much be here."

Even if that means he's that much further from the dream.

"I always knew I could play in the NHL since I was 6 or 7 and I did, but I had bigger expectations," Gamache said. "I was expecting maybe a better result in the NHL, but that's just the way it is. I can't complain. I have a good job."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com



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