It was September of 2006, and Furrer, the Blueshirts’ sixth-round pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, had made his first trip to the Madison Square Garden Training Center for an NHL training camp. The then 21-year-old Swiss citizen had just begun what he hoped would be a journey to the NHL, helping the Rangers prospects to a fourth-place Traverse City finish.
Returning from Michigan, he expected to join the Rangers’ main training camp, only to find out that his Swiss team, the SC Bern Bears, needed him to come home to Europe right away.
“It was a big mess because our (SC Bern’s) season had already started,” Furrer recalled. “I was invited to the Rangers’ main camp, but one of our good (Bern) players was injured, and they had a shortage of defensemen, so the (Bern general manager) told me I had to come back.”
Furrer followed instructions and went home. He would not see the Rangers at close range again until this week, when the Blueshirts arrived in Bern for their final two preseason games before opening the 2008-09 regular-season in Prague. In a strange twist of fate, Furrer will be on the opposite side of the ice, wearing his familiar Bears jersey while at the same time wishing he could be in the other guy’s skates.
Four of the players who spent that week with Furrer in Traverse City have played NHL games for the Rangers and are now in Bern. Furrer can name them all: Ryan Callahan
, Brandon Dubinsky
, Lauri Korpikoski and Marc Staal
. A fifth player from that tournament, Corey Potter, is also on the Rangers team in Bern but has yet to play his first NHL regular-season game.
“It’s fun to see them, that they made it (to the NHL),” said Furrer, who was paired on defense with Staal for part of the Traverse City tournament. “At the same time, I want to be there, too. So for me, it’s a big goal to wear this (Rangers) jersey some day and be there.
Dubinsky remembers Furrer from Traverse City and said that the experience of playing for the Rangers in that setting was valuable for all of the young players involved.
“I thought he (Furrer) was a really good player. We spent some time together there and did some activities and it was a lot of fun,” said Dubinsky. “… I think the big thing with those camps that makes them really good is that you work hard all summer. But you don’t have experience getting into games and getting that intensity level on the ice up. And that was a chance for us to get the intensity level up and get ready to go, heading into main camp. By the time we got to main camp, we were feeling pretty good about where our games were. It gave us a lot of confidence to skate with the big boys and have a good camp with them.”
Just like a rookie at training camp, Furrer hopes a strong performance against Dubinsky and the other Rangers players on Tuesday will help him catch the eye of NHL scouts in general and the Rangers’ leadership in particular. One of his biggest obstacles in the past was a tendency to get hurt. He had a hip injury in 2003 and damaged his wrist while playing for Bern during the 2006-07 season.
“I’ve had a lot of injuries already,” he said. “ I’m sure that’s one of the reasons I’m not over there (in the NHL) now. Especially for me, personally, I need to feel good and I need to be ready when I go over. If I go over and I don’t feel good or am not ready, then I’m not going to make it. But I just have to be healthy and play a good season here, and then we’ll see.”
Even if he doesn’t have a big game in Tuesday’s exhibition, he won’t be too upset. That’s because Furrer understands his real proving ground will be the 2009 World Championship tournament, where he expects to play for Team Switzerland.
“I don’t feel pressure,” he said on the day before playing against the Rangers. “But I’m excited to go and see what’s the difference between those players and me, so I’m really excited about the game. … Sure it’s really important tomorrow, but at the same time, the whole season is going to be important for me, especially the World Championship, because there it’s the final and that’s the last tournament of our season and you can see how good you are for next season. I think tomorrow for me is a really big game, but the World Championship is going to be the bigger one.”
Furrer is an unrestricted free agent who could sign with any NHL team. However, his strong feelings for the Rangers -- more than a year after his name officially came off the team’s reserve list – are a testimony to what the organization means to the players it drafts, even European players who did not necessarily grow up watching NHL hockey.
“It was amazing,” a wide-eyed Furrer recalled. “Once you’re in the Rangers organization, you want to be there for life. I don’t think there’s a better team than the Rangers team. Over here, Bern is kind of like the Rangers of the NHL, because it’s a popular team with a long history, and it’s the most professional of the Swiss clubs. But for me it was amazing experience to play there (Traverse City) and to be with the guys and to learn everything. It was great.”
Furrer is not the only member of the SC Bern team with ties to the Blueshirts. Christian Dube
, a 31-year-old veteran of a 10 seasons in Switzerland and seven seasons with Bern, actually played 33 games for the Rangers during the 1996-97 and 1998-99 seasons. He also spent time with the Hartford Wolf Pack -- a total of four years under a Rangers contract after being the team’s second-round pick in 1995.
|Christian Dube spent parts of two seasons with the Rangers in the late 1990s and broke into the NHL with Wayne Gretzky as one of his first professional teammates. |
When Dube made his NHL debut early in the 1996-97 season, one of his teammates was a fellow Rangers newcomer named Wayne Gretzky. Dube, whose father also played briefly in the NHL during the mid-1970s, would spend 27 games with the Rangers before going back to junior. He then played with the Hartford Wolf Pack before finishing off his NHL career in 1999.
Dube played his last NHL game just over a month before Gretzky announced his retirement. He eventually opted to go to Europe rather than re-sign with the Rangers or any other NHL team. Coming to Switzerland turned out to be a great career move, since he is one of the country’s better players.
“It wasn’t really a tough adjustment, because it (European style) was more my type of game back then,” said Dube. “Now that the NHL has changed. It’s faster and there’s not as much hooking and holding, but back then it (the NHL) was not really my type of game. When I came here with bigger ice and more room, I found it easier to adjust.”
On Monday, Dube was asked to put on a Rangers jersey one more time for some television cameras, and he obliged, posing briefly in the area between the benches. When the shooting was finished, he hastily pulled off the jersey, not wanting his current Bern teammates to see him in an enemy uniform.
Despite deciding the NHL was not for him, Dube remains good friends with several current NHL players, including Philadelphia star Daniel Briere. He is also similar to Furrer in that he has nothing but good things to say about his Rangers experience.
“The organization is top notch. It’s one of the best in the NHL,” Dube said of the Rangers. “They treat their players like they are kings, you know. It’s great. I was young. I was 19, and I played with Hall of Famers like Gretzky, (Mark) Messier, (Luc) Robitaille, (Brian) Leetch and those guys. It was a dream come true for me. The experience was really nice and I have great memories.”