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FEATURE: Contract signing first step for Gilles Senn

"I think it's a good start now and a sign that I've been doing the right things until now. I still have to work more and even harder now to get to the NHL." -- Gilles Senn

by Amanda Stein / newjerseydevils.com

Gilles Senn isn't exactly sure how he's going to tell his parents.

When the pen met paper in New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero's office on April 17, Senn officially signed his first NHL contract. 

He hadn't yet told his parents. Just the Devils, his agent and Senn himself were aware.

It almost seemed too emotional for the 23-year-old Swiss goaltender to think about: The moment where his family would find out his dream has come true. 

"It's still crazy," Senn reflected. "I can't really tell you now, how it really feels. I might just have to call my dad and my mom and brother to tell them now that I'm signed. To hear that from them, maybe that will get me. It's the start now." 

Senn said he wasn't sure whether he would call his parents or wait until he arrived home in Switzerland to tell them in person. He does admit this is just one tiny step to reaching his goal of playing in the NHL.

"It doesn't say that I'm playing here, but it's about working hard now to get to the NHL," Senn said. "I think it's a good start now and a sign that I've been doing the right things until now. I still have to work more and even harder now to get to the NHL."

Video: RAW | Gilles Senn Signs Contract

Senn credits his brother to getting him into the sport of hockey. From their small town of Saastal in Switzerland, Gilles spent most of his time skiing. It wasn't until he started watching his older brother play hockey that the thought crossed his mind. 

"My older brother played hockey, but I didn't have so much to do with sports when I was younger," Senn said. "I just spent my time skiing. But I went to his practices all the time and I asked my dad if I can start also. We went on the ice sometimes, but I knew that I can't really skate, I was a little bit fat then! 

"So, I wasn't really fast at skating, I just went in the goal and I liked it," he added. "You had your time when [the skaters] were not on your side [of the ice], I just knew it from the beginning. It was something special and also with everything you could take home. All the gear, you don't want it [a certain way] you can change it a little bit, with the mask you can put stickers on, that's why I started." 

His dream of playing in the NHL started in his mid-teens. As a kid growing up in Switzerland, he didn't have the same exposure to the National Hockey League that others may have had. But when a couple of Swiss goaltenders in David Aebischer and Martin Gerber began to play in the NHL, it piqued Senn's interest. 

"I didn't know anything about the NHL when I was young, I just watched the goalies in Swizterland," he said. "I went to the games every weekend, I saw so many games from Bern. When Aebischer or Gerber went first to the NHL, it came up a little bit to me. I hadn't really much been able to go to the internet so much, so that was hard. But when I was like 14-15, I really started to watch the NHL highlights videos from goalies from games. It became a really big thing and then you started reading stories in newspapers about the NHL, hearing Swiss guys telling their stories."

Ask Senn now what his ultimate hockey goal is, there is zero hesitation. 

"I want to win the Stanley Cup. That's the goal."

He is quick to add, "First I have to play here, but that's just the ultimate goal."

And for Senn, he has taken to want to learn the North American style of play seriously. He's worked with New Jersey Devils goaltending development coach Scott Clemmensen, a relationship he puts a lot of stock into. 

"On the ice, I had a really good practice with Clemmensen," he said. "He's taught me a lot like how to play here, how I have to, he's given me tips about how I should play and those are the things I'm going to work on in Switzerland now, but also all the things we did besides on the ice, like workouts, nutrition stuff - I never had that before. It shows you what you have to do, besides the hockey, the things you have to look for your body."

He's also been through two Devils development camps since he was drafted in 2017. Both of which he credits as eye opening experiences to what it would take to make the National Hockey League. 

"There's just such a difference," he said. "Not just to the rink, but how everything works, how players think, the types of systems and how they want to play. But also, everything around hockey is so different now from Switzerland, the food, how you get food, how you get to the rink - things like that. How you handle your life, your social life… it's crazy that it's all happening now, but I'm really excited for the new challenge." 

The challenge ahead may be made slightly easier for Senn knowing that two Swiss-nationals are also a part of the New Jersey Devils system. Both Nico Hischier and Mirco Mueller make up 2 of the 13 Swiss players active in the NHL today. Swiss players make up just 1.3 percent of all NHL players. 

"It's really special," Senn said. "But it's also really helpful. Every time you go to a new team there are guys that are easy going and it's no problem, but still when you have [players] who speak the same language as I do, then it's way easier to get into the team and also when you have something [to talk about] besides hockey, like what to do here, looking for apartments, finding a car, they can really help me and that's really special. I'm really happy that they're here."

Although Senn and Hischier have known each other for many years, Gilles knows Nico's brother Luca better. Both played for HC Davos last season and the two plan to spend the summer living and training together in an apartment in Bern. He hopes to get to know Nico even better this summer. 

"It's really funny - we [grew up] 20 minutes from each other in Switzerland," Gilles said. 

And now, they're both signed to National Hockey League contracts with the same team.

Once again, chasing the same goal. 

"It's just so crazy." 

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