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Pure shock

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Sven Andrighetto loves Quebec so much that he has it tattooed on his heart. Literally.

Andrighetto’s stint with the Quebec-based Rouyn-Noranda Huskies had a significant impact on the type of player – and the type of person – that he eventually became. By his own admission, it wasn’t in his native Switzerland that he first thought he could one day reach the pros, but rather when he arrived in North America at the age of 18.

When he was selected 11th overall by the Huskies during the CHL Import Draft back in 2011, Andrighetto didn’t know much about Quebec, and even less about Abitibi-Temiscamingue.

“The first time I set foot in Rouyn-Noranda, I was in shock. My father came with me for the first visit. He wanted to make sure that I was safe. We had a layover of eight hours in Montreal before flying to Rouyn-Noranda, so we took the time to explore a little bit and walk around,” explained Andrighetto, who grew up and played hockey in Zurich and its surrounding areas. “It was the first time either of us had been to Montreal, too. I was really excited thinking that Rouyn would be just like Montreal. It’s less than a two-hour plane ride away. I don’t know why, but I thought that it would just be three hours away by car.”

Let’s just say that Andrighetto was somewhat surprised going from a major metropolitan city in Montreal with a population of 1.6 million people to a small mining town of a little bit more than 40,000 inhabitants. When his head coach at the time, Andre Tourigny, arrived at the airport in Rouyn to pick him up, his new hockey home was, in fact, very different from the way he’d imagined it would be a few hours earlier.

“It was nighttime and we were driving along a pretty ordinary street. There were a few houses, a few lights were on, no people outside, no cars. That’s when he told me that this was downtown. I was a little bit taken aback right there,” cracked Andrighetto, who did, however, adapt quickly to his new surroundings.

That adaptation process was made a lot easier with the help of his billet, Randy Charchuk. A window maker by trade, he’s also been a shareholder with the Huskies for the last 20 years. It was Charchuk who Tourigny turned to when he was looking for a family to welcome the new European sensation to town.

“You could see that the first time he came to Abitibi, the first day, he seemed a little bit lost. On the other hand, two or three days later he felt right at home,” said Charchuk. “He was really a part of the family. When he left, we missed him a lot. He really respected us and we respected what he wanted to do with his life.”

For Charchuk, Andrighetto demonstrated unparalleled dedication to achieving his career aspirations.

Andrighetto has the Quebec motto "Je me souviens" tattooed on his rib cage.

“He’s a really serious young kid. You saw that he wanted to play in the NHL. He didn’t want to go to Switzerland or something like that. It was really the NHL or nothing at all. He wasn’t a guy who stayed out all night. He was really easy going when it came to things like food, etc. If he wasn’t at the rink, he was home,” explained Charchuk, who was in New Jersey when Andrighetto put on a Canadiens jersey for the very first time during the 2013 NHL Draft.

Charchuk didn’t go there alone, though. He was accompanied by his kids and the Andrighetto family, who he got to know as time marched on.

“Sven’s family came to see him a few times. His mother, father, brother and sister all made the trip. When they’d come to town, I always tried to make room for them. They’re good people. They’re very classy people,” explained Charchuk, who organized ice fishing and snow mobile outings when Andrighetto’s parents, Remo and Jacqueline, visited Rouyn-Noranda.

In his first season with the Huskies, Andrighetto put up 36 goals and 74 points. He quickly became a fan favorite at Iamgold Arena on game nights and in the streets of the cultural capital of Abitibi.

“Small cities like that are really good for building team spirit. You spend a lot of time together. You participate in group activities and you stay connected with people. I really felt right at home there,” said Andrighetto, who helped another future NHLer learn the ropes in Abitibi during his second season when Nikita Kucherov enjoyed a brief stay with the Huskies following a trade.

“For a year-and-a-half, I was alone with the Charchuk family. Then, when we got Kucherov, I asked the Charchuks and Andre if he could come and live with us,” recalled Andrighetto. “We had a big house, so it wasn’t a problem at all. It was very nice of the Charchuks to welcome him in.”

Having that much talent under one roof certainly made things interesting, especially when it came to seeing Andrighetto and Kucherov put their hockey skills on display.

“They’d follow each other around all the time and go to the rink together. They played on the same line and it really showed. They did tricks with tennis balls and a hockey stick in the garage that I wouldn’t be able to do with my hands. That’s for sure,” admitted Charchuk. “I thought I had some skill, but to see them do their thing was incredible. I’d just sit and watch. It was like the Cirque du Soleil.”

Andrighetto’s comfort level with the Charchuks, the city and his teammates helped him close out his Junior career with 172 points in 115 games, and he also got a chance to sample some of the pleasures that winter and summer in Abitibi afford its residents every single year.

“During the summer, we had Seadoos. Come winter, we had Skidoos. I had a lot of fun with that. We’d go out on the frozen lake in winter. There were always things to do out in nature,” recalled the 22-year-old young gun, who was pleased to remain in Quebec and ply his trade for the Canadiens.

He also tattooed the provincial motto “Je me souviens” – or “I remember” in English – on his rib cage. And, given his remarkable work so far in the NHL ranks, Canadiens fans will surely remember his play, too.

Vincent Cauchy is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Matt Cudzinowski.

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