They can’t play for the NHL but Logan Couture and Yannick Webber are proving to be a bonus for the National League A Geneve-Servette team in Switzerland.
The National Hockey League locked out its players on Sept. 15, sending many of them to foreign countries to keep their skills sharp until a deal is reached.
It didn’t take long for Couture, a former Ottawa 67 in the Ontario Hockey League, to get used to his new environment. Now the second leading scorer for the San Jose Sharks last season has notched three goals and seven assists in 10 games in Geneva.
He’s at the heart of a trio that is considered the most productive on the team and which includes Dan Fritsche (7-9-16) and Kevin Romy (6-9-15).
“I’m here to help the team,” said the 23-year-old Couture, who amassed 65 points including 31 goals with the Sharks in 2011-12. “I don’t just do it by collecting points and goals. I want to play well and contribute in any way I can.”
His team is far ahead of its rivals with 35 points, six more than Fribourg-Gotteron and Zurich.
“This is a great experience for me,” said the talented forward from London, Ont., who was drafted in the first round — ninth overall — by the Sharks in 2007.
While he enjoys living in Geneva, he’s keen to get back to the Sharks.
“Every hockey player wants to play in the NHL. It’s a childhood dream for every Canadian. We want to reach a deal but if it doesn’t happen, I’ll be happy to continue playing in Geneva.”
Chris McSorley, the coach of Geneve-Servette, admits he fears losing his two gems sooner or later.
“When I wake up in the morning and I see they’re still in training, it’s a bonus,” said McSorley, who is also general manager. “I knew the risks of using them but it will not ruin our training if we lose their services because the other teams will also lose their foreign players who are in the NHL.”
He said the two players have had a positive impact on the team.
“When they go, they will leave us a better team,” McSorley said. “Their habits, their professionalism and their work ethic are outstanding and this is what is important.
“They’re teaching our players how professionals behave and they see why these two athletes are moving up in the NHL,” added McSorley, who is the brother of former NHL player Marty McSorley.
“Selfishly, I wish I could keep them but I’m a big fan of the NHL and I want this conflict resolved.”
Hockey players in the NHL are taking up a lot of space in Switzerland but Couture says he hasn’t felt any resentment.
“I haven’t felt any tension,” he said. “A lot of Canadians are playing here with Swiss passports. From the beginning it was easy to get along with the guys. I have good relations with everyone.”
Couture’s arrival doesn’t mean another athlete has been bumped. He’s actually replacing Quebecer Alexandre Picard, who’s still on the injured list.
Canadians Rico Fata and Ryan Keller as well as French player Kevin Hecquefeuille have also been activated.
Each team can have eight foreign players but only four can get on the ice each game.
American Brian Pothier and Finland’s Tony Salmelainen have not suited up because they’re injured.