BERNE – No Swiss has enjoyed a longer career in the National Hockey League than Mark Streit, who appeared in 784 regular-season and 34 playoff games during his 12-year NHL career. The 39-year-old will enter this 23rd season as a professional player when he suits up once more for the Montreal Canadiens, the team that drafted him over a decade ago
While still not at the end of his career, he certainly added a massive highlight this year by winning his first Stanley Cup. It’s a dream so big that he had never thought about growing up as a kid. Today Swiss youngsters like recent number-one draft pick Nico Hischier dream of the NHL but at that time the league seemed not accessible.
“The NHL was the ultimate league and there hadn’t been any Swiss there. During my junior years, one didn’t waste time thinking about that a Swiss would be there. We dreamed of becoming a hockey pro. We dreamed of playing in the [Swiss] NLA, and after that I wanted to make the national team. But I had always been a fan of the NHL and was following it. When you make it there and even win the Cup, it’s a wonderful feeling,” Streit said.
Streit was first overlooked as a junior. To get more ice time he even changed his junior team, leaving SC Bern for Fribourg-Gotteron where he played his first games in the top senior league as an 18-year-old. He went on to play in two World Juniors then moved to league rival HC Davos, and as a 20-year-old played in his first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in 1998 on home ice in Zurich and Basel.
In 1999 he felt ready to get a shot at the NHL and went there as an undrafted player – but the NHL wasn’t ready for him yet. Offensive-minded defencemen were not that much sought after until a few years later in the post-lockout era. After a season mostly spent with the AHL’s Springfield Falcons and the ECHL’s Tallahassee Tiger Sharks, Streit returned to Switzerland and played for the ZSC Lions Zurich.
In Switzerland he gradually increased his production year after year and became a star on the national team. In 2004 the Montreal Canadiens acquired his rights during the ninth round of the NHL Entry Draft. The “lockout season” with many NHLers in the Swiss league turned out to be his best with 18 goals and 58 points in 59 games. After having captained the Swiss national team at the 2005 Worlds, he left for Montreal and made the NHL team at the first attempt even if he was a healthy scratch at times during his first season or had to play as a winger. After three years he left for the New York Islanders in search of a bigger role on the blueline where he played for five years including two as captain. Four more NHL seasons followed at the Philadelphia Flyers that ended with three months and a Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I’m overjoyed. It’s surreal that I was able to experience this. I’ve been in the NHL for 12 years and had never been close [to winning the Stanley Cup] and suddenly I was at the right place at the right time. I had to wait long and am very proud. I had a lot of cool experiences in my career, with ups and downs. It has been a long, sometimes bumpy road.”
Every champion can have the Cup for one day. On Wednesday morning Streit welcomed the trophy and its two keepers from the Hockey Hall of Fame at Zurich airport before bringing it to his hometown of Berne, about a one-and-a-half-hour journey away.
Switzerland is one of the least-visited countries during these Cup tours. It’s the third time the “holy grail” has arrived in the country. David Aebischer won it in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche and brought it to Fribourg. Five years later Martin Gerber became NHL champion with the Carolina Hurricanes and celebrated with the trophy in Langnau. Both were backup goalies at the end of the season and didn’t play in the final; neither did Mark Streit, who was acquired by the Pittsburgh Penguins on 1st March to add depth on the blueline before the playoff start.
Streit came during his fourth and last year with the Philadelphia Flyers and appeared in 19 regular-season games but had the joker role in the post season appearing in three games when there were injuries. The valuation of his work was still high. He was one of the first players who was given the Cup on the ice when the Pens got their fourth win in the final series against Nashville and the Penguins asked for an exception to have his name on the trophy despite no ice time in the final series. Something that’s going to happen once the names of the 2017 winners will be engraved on the trophy in September.
“One’s name is immortalized forever and that I was able reach it that late in my career is wonderful. The trophy has a lot of history and for me there’s no more beautiful trophy in sports. It’s a huge moment to show it and celebrate with it with my family and friends,” he said. Having had limited ice time in the end doesn’t dampen his joy. “You need more than 22 players to win the Cup and everybody has to fulfil his role and I think I fulfilled mine very well.”
After family photos at the rose garden where he spent a lot of time as a teenager, he had a visit at the old town mansion of the city mayor for a couple of more photos with the Cup, his family and junior players of his former club SC Bern, for interviews and an hour-long autograph session with fans before moving to the Federal Palace where he was congratulated by sports minister Guy Parmelin before celebrating with friends and family in the evening.
The Cup tour closed an eventful season for Streit.
“The birth of my daughter Victoria is surely the most beautiful event I experienced and the Stanley Cup followed as my career highlight,” Streit said. The seven-month old child was small enough to find space on the top of the trophy.
Streit was for the last time seen in a Penguins jersey. For the new season he signed a one-year contract with the Montreal Canadians and is very happy about, even if the salary of $700,000 is just a small fraction of what he was used to in the past years.
“If you look at the free-agent market and see that one of the older players [Jaromir Jagr] still hasn’t signed anywhere, I’m proud and happy that I was able to sign with Montreal and I’m really looking forward to it,” Streit said.
“By signing in Montreal my NHL career becomes full circle. I was drafted there and was able to establish myself in the NHL there. I know the city and the club. I had three great years there. It’s an original-six team with a lot of history and it’s a great organization. It’s an honour to play there and a big joy to skate for them again.”
Streit wants to end his career in the NHL and did earlier rule out signing in Switzerland since his style of play is now adapted to the narrow NHL ice. Could he even end his career where it started in the NHL?
“I’m very happy about the year in Montreal and after that we will see. My career will for sure not last five more years, that’s a fact,” said Streit, who will turn 40 years old during the upcoming season.
“I want to go to the camp and play as well as possible. I enjoy going back, I feel in shape and I’m very motivated for the new challenge.” Stanley Cup’s road so far this summer:
- Chris Kunitz started the tour in the city of the current champions, Pittsburgh (USA), before the trophy went to equipment manager Dana Heinze and assistant general manager Bill Guerin in nearby Sewlickey.
- Jake Guentzel was the first player to bring the Cup outside Pennsylvania this summer. He celebrated in Woodbury, Minnesota (USA), and took it to a golf course too.
- Justin Schultz was the first to present the Cup in Canada, in Kelowna, British Columbia, where he also took it to a children’s hospital and a vineyard.
- Carter Rowney received the Stanley Cup in Grande Prairie, Alberta, and brought it to his hometown of Sexsmith.
- The Cup went further east to Trevor Daley, who celebrated with the Cup in Toronto. Scott Wilson had it in Oakville and took it to Lake Ontario.
- Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang took the Cup to la belle province and enjoyed their day with the Cup at several places in the Montreal area.
- Next was the province of Nova Scotia. No, not yet for Sidney Crosby, who will get the Cup for his 30th birthday next Monday. It was Ryan Bowness’s day in Halifax first, who joined the staff as pro scout last year.
- The Cup left Canada on 26 July for Europe. First stop was Moscow where assistant coach Sergei Gonchar and star forward Yevgeni Malkin celebrated with the Cup. That included a visit to the Russian Hall of Fame Museum where the trophy for the first time met its Russian counterpart, the Gagarin Cup.
- Landshut near Munich in Germany was the next stop. Tom Kuhnhackl celebrated with the family and with special beer brewed for him: “Cup Champ Lager – Penguin Flavor”.
- Olli Maatta spend his day with the Cup in Jyvaskyla where he also brought it to the school he attended while growing up. A lake house and a sauna were also on the Finnish program.
- From Finland the Cup was flown to the Swedish capital of Stockholm. Patric Hornqvist got it first and brought it to the rink in Vasby where he played as a junior. Hundreds of fans came and saw his number 18 being retired. The Cup stayed in the Stockholm area for Carl Hagelin’s day in his hometown of Sodertalje with a Swedish celebration at home and a visit to the local rink. After that the Cup was flown to Switzerland where it left for Columbus on Thursday.