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For Patrick Fischer, the 2006-07 hockey season marks the end of one long journey and hopefully signals the beginning of another one.
After spending the past 13 years playing exclusively in Switzerland, the forward signed a multi-year contract with the Phoenix Coyotes with the hopes of finally realizing his dream of playing in the National Hockey League.
Fischer nearly made his North American debut five years ago, but saw his dream slip from his grasp because of injury.
"Five years ago, I almost came over with Los Angeles, but I had a really bad knee injury that stopped my plans," said Fischer. "Then this year, after the Olympics, Mike (Michael) Barnett contacted my agency and said that he was interested in me and I decided to come over."
While he may not have been playing in North America, Fischer is certainly no stranger when it comes to playing against the best players from all around the world. As a member of Switzerland's national team, World Championship lineup and Olympic squad, Fischer has fine tuned his game helped raise the awareness of Swiss hockey.
"I think in the last eight times that we went to the World Championships, we reached the quarterfinals six times and all the teams that are in the tournament like Canada, USA Finland, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic and Slovakia, all have tons of players over here," said Fischer. "I don't think Switzerland can be that far away from those teams since we are competing with them every year at the Worlds' and at the Olympic Games when we beat the Czech Republic and Canada."
Fischer also admits that while the 2004-05 NHL work stoppage was unfortunate, it may have helped raise the awareness of Swiss hockey.
"One thing that might have helped was that during the lockout, NHL players were coming over to Switzerland," said Fischer. "They were playing in the leagues and recognizing that we were playing some good hockey."
Now with extensive international experience, Fischer is determined to take his game to the next level in the NHL, however, making the jump in leagues will require some adaptation on Fischer's part.
"The NHL is definitely less of a puck carrying game," said Fischer. "You have to make quicker decisions and do a little bit more fore-checking and going after loose pucks. I like that and I look forward to it."
Fortunately for Fischer, one part of his game that will require very little change is his knack for offensive production.
"My strengths are more on the offensive side," admits Fischer. "I've been playing wing or center all my life, but I also know that defense wins (games). I've had some good success over the last couple years and I hope to do that here."
Since he began skating with members of the Coyotes two weeks ago in voluntary workouts in Scottsdale, Fischer has begun to realize that his aspirations of playing in the NHL are once again, within his grasp. And while some may he haunted by the memories of past disappointments, Fischer is upbeat, focused and ready to fulfill his lifelong goal.
"For me, it's like a dream come true to be here at age 31 and getting a chance to make the NHL," said Fischer. "I am really proud to be here, and I'll give everything I have to make this team. I've gotten to know some of the guys over the last few weeks and I look forward to the challenge of making the team."