Leaving North America for Europe wasn’t an easy decision for Cody Almond, but it might turn out to be the best move in his pursuit to land a full-time job in the National Hockey League. After spending three seasons shuffling between the Minnesota Wild and the club’s American Hockey League affiliate, Houston Aeros, Almond headed overseas, to the Swiss Elite League. Only 23 when he headed for Europe, the center believed it was the best move for his career and NHL dream.
“I think it was the best thing, to keep developing as a player, at the time. I’m happy with my decision,” Almond said. “I have another chance to make the squad here.”
When the Calgary, Alberta native crossed the Atlantic Ocean, it was his first time in Europe. His maternal grandmother is from Switzerland, so he was able to get a passport. He spent two seasons in Geneva with the Genève-Servette Hockey Club. Playing in the Swiss Alps was an eye-opening experience for a Canadian in his early 20’s.
“It’s a totally different world over there, you feel like you’re on a different planet sometimes,” Almond said. “It was a great experience, you get to see Europe and get some experience with the culture.”
A big part of the experience was developing as a player. Almond wanted to expand his game, specifically the offensive aspect. At Wild training camp, it looks like the seasoning has paid off. In the team’s scrimmage yesterday, he had a goal and an assist. On his goal, he took a pass at the top of the circles, lowered his shoulder to cut around the defender, and then chipped the puck into the top left corner of the net.
“The hockey [in Europe] was fantastic, I was very impressed,” Almond said. “Obviously, it’s a little different style of game, so I thought it was good for me to work on the things I needed to work on over there. I got to play a lot and had a couple of good teams. It was a lot of fun.”
Last season, Almond’s team won the Spengler Cup, an invitational hockey tournament in Davos, Switzerland. The team topped HC CSKA Moscow, from the KHL, 5-3. He said that hoisting the Cup was the highlight of his time spent in abroad.
Stylistically, Almond said that the game is more about puck possession, rather than crashing and banging in a dump-and-chase game. The 25-year-old thought that possessing the puck and creating offense was something he needed to improve.
“It’s more about making plays and finesse,” Almond said. “I think I was lacking a little bit in those areas, but I feel like I’ve improved and worked on it. Hopefully those were the characteristics that I needed to stick in the NHL.”
At the start of training camp, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo has seen the focus Almond has put into the offensive side of things. However, the team’s bench boss still wants him to use his 6-foot-2, 199-pound frame to play physically, defensively sound hockey.
“He looks to me like he has, right now, a very strong offensive minded focus,” Yeo said. “When he was with us (before), there was a little more of a defensive focus, as far as what kind of a player he was going to be.
“I think it’s great that he’s showing he has more on the offensive side than he did a couple of years ago, but we have to make sure that some of the parts on the defensive side and the edge that he has to play with is there as well.”
If Almond can be a reliable defender, who can chip in offensively, he might land a permanent spot in Minnesota, something he envisioned even while playing overseas.
“I always planned on coming back, (Europe) was more of a temporary thing,” Almond said. “It was a timing thing and when I was ready as a player. I feel ready now and hopefully everything works out.”