TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – From the time his Belgian parents permitted a family friend to teach him to skate on an outdoor rink in Switzerland, Red Wings prospect Joren van Pottelberghe has been driven to reach for higher hockey aspirations.
Almost immediately after that first skating experience, he attended hockey school, and as is so often the case, he began playing goalie only after his coaches asked for a volunteer.
“I started the first three years as a player,” van Pottelberghe said. “At that time you’re all over the ice. But then in the camp they asked, ‘Who wants to go into the net?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, why not.’ So, from there on end I was always in the net.”
Van Pottelberghe was the Red Wings’ fourth-round pick in last weekend’s amateur draft in Florida. While he didn’t attend the league’s two-day extravaganza he wasn’t about to miss development camp and the chance to work with goaltending coach Jim Bedard in northern Michigan this week.
“He’s an amazing coach and has worked with some of the best goalies in the world,” van Pottelberghe said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to learn from him and to learn from the rest.”
Though van Pottelberghe was born and raised in Switzerland, he has spent the past two years playing junior hockey for Linköpings in Sweden.
“That’s a long story actually, but the short version is I should work in Switzerland and I didn’t want to do that,” he said. “So, we started to look at where else I could play. Canada was a little bit too far and then we looked in Sweden and I think I found the perfect club there in Linköpings. It’s amazing.”
While moving away from his family’s home in Zug took some adjustment, it’s helped the oldest child of Dirk and Annick to gain his independence. Van Pottelberghe has a 15-year-old sister, Zoé, who is into horse-back riding and gymnastics.
“I’ve played there two years now and it’s been great,” he said. “I’ve developed so much, I think I’ve improved on every part of my game. Also I have to do everything by myself. I learned to take care of myself and it’s been great.”
Living in Sweden has also helped add another foreign language to van Pottelberghe’s repertoire. The 6-foot-2 goalie speaks fluent English, German and Flemish, and he’s learning Swedish.
“There are quite a few different languages spoken in our country,” he said. “Some (Swiss) speak even more languages because in the south they speak French and Italian.”
Big, mobile and athletic, van Pottelberghe deploys a butterfly-style though he doesn’t tailor his game after any one particular goaltender.
“When I was young, in my club back home was Lars Weibel. I was watching him a lot,” he said. “Then when I got older I was looking a lot at Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, but I don’t think I play much like them. I just like to watch them. They’re so passionate about the sport, so it’s really fun to watch them.”
Van Pottelberghe was at home monitoring the draft on the internet when his goaltending coach called to congratulate him on being selected by Detroit. The 18-year-old goalie is the first Swiss player ever picked by the Red Wings in the NHL’s annual draft of amateur talent, which began in 1963.
“I was so excited. It’s a huge opportunity for me. It’s an amazing club to have so big of a history here. I was super excited.”
Van Pottelberghe plans to return home following the Wings’ week-long camp, which ends Tuesday. He’ll continue getting ready for his upcoming junior season as well as his chance at playing for Switzerland in the World Junior Championship in late December.
“That is a big goal for me this season, definitely. It’s always nice to represent your country. It’s a big opportunity and I want to take part in it this year,” van Pottelberghe said. “I go home for nine days and then I go to Arosa for the U20 national team camp there. The day after we finish camp, I head back to Sweden and I get ready for the season.”
SATURDAY'S SCRIMMAGE: The campers will play in a 60-minute scrimmage on Saturday afternoon at Centre Ice Arena. Team Howe and Team Lindsay will face-off in two 30-minutes halves with a running clock for the first 20 minutes of each half. For the last 10 minutes of each half, which will be stop time, the teams will work on power play and penalty kill. The scrimmage will conclude with a shootout.
Here are the line combinations, defensive pairings and goalies for each squad in today’s scrimmage:
Axel Holmstrom – Dylan Larkin – Evgeny Svechnikov
Tyson Spink – Alex Globke – Jerome Verrier
Mike McKee – Christoffer Ehn – Nick Betz
Chase Pearson – Jin-Hui Ahn – Adam Marsh
Travis Walsh – Joe Hicketts
David Nemecek – Pat Holway
Grant Gabriele – Jalen Chatfield
Jake Paterson – Joren van Pottelberghe
Tyler Bertuzzi – Dominic Turgeon – Anthony Mantha
Zach Nastasiuk – Julius Vahatalo – Hampus Melen
Alex Kile – Connor McGlynn – Bryce Gervais
Evan Polei – Shelon Dries – Anthony Greco
Mike Babcock, Jr.
James DeHaas – Vili Saarijarvi
Marc McNulty – Won-Jun Kim
Nick Azar – Kevin Lough
Chase Perry – Tomas Kral