It's a long way from Lugano, Switzerland, to Pittsburgh, Pa., but that's the journey that 2012 NHL Entry Draft hopeful Alessio Bertaggia
hopes to take.
That trip gets even longer when adding a stopover in Brandon, Mtba., to the equation.
Bertaggia, taken by the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings with the 33rd pick of the 2011 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft, opted this season to ply his trade in North America in the hopes of improving his game to the point where he hears his name called sometime during draft weekend, June 22-23 in Pittsburgh.
is tied for seventh among all first-year WHL players with 21 goals and is ninth with 43 points. (Photo: Getty Images)
"The idea was to get to another type of hockey and learn how Canadians play and improve because the coaches are very good here and they help you a lot," Bertaggia said. "My goal was just to come here and improve."
The decision to travel more than 4,000 miles from home in the pursuit of a hockey career may have been inspired by the fact that Bertaggia, 18, was passed over by all 30 NHL teams last season.
"Obviously if you get drafted you're happy, but I just keep working hard and am hoping this year is the good year," Bertaggia said. "I think if you don't get drafted you know you have to work hard and get better. I just try to improve every day and we'll see what happens."
His decision appears to have been a smart one. The 5-foot-8, 160-pound left wing is tied for seventh among all first-year WHL players with 21 goals and is ninth with 43 points. He's ranked No. 122 by NHL Central Scouting in its midterm ranking of North American skaters.
Typically an adjustment follows a move of the magnitude of the one made by Bertaggia; however, if you ask Wheat Kings coach Cory Clouston, the Swiss import instead hit the ground running.
"He had a really good start to the season," said Clouston. "I thought he had a little bit of a lull there. It gets to be a grind and I thought he responded well just before the World Juniors and he's played well since then."
The modest Bertaggia painted a slightly different picture, despite recording a hat trick in his first WHL game and adding 7 goals and 14 points in his first 11 games.
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"The first month was a little bit hard, but the boys helped me, the staff helped me and my billets were really nice to me," Bertaggia said. "They really helped me."
His strong start helped him earn a spot on Switzerland's entry in the 2012 World Junior Championship, an event frequented by many NHL scouts. He gave them something to think about by totaling 1 goal and 4 points in six games.
"I just thought about Switzerland, play hard and play game-by-game and help my teammates," said Bertaggia. "I just played and tried to motivate my teammates and give 100 percent every day, every game. I think the World Juniors is one of the best tournaments you can ever play in and a chance to play for Switzerland and represent your country is a great pleasure."
He feels a similar pride when mentioning the Wheat Kings.
In fact, representing the Wheat Kings and helping the club earn a playoff spot now is the only thing on Bertaggia's mind -- not his hopes for being drafted in June.
"Right now, I'm just focusing on Brandon," he said. "I am trying to give my best here and try to reach the playoffs and get in a good spot. Then we'll see (about the draft) after the season. I'm pretty excited."
Clouston said Bertaggia's actions have matched his words.
"He's very focused," Clouston said. "He's a team guy. He works hard. He's more concerned with wins than his own cause."