TORONTO – When Tom Pyatt decided to take his hockey career to Switzerland three years ago, he knew he might have closed the door on ever playing in the National Hockey League again.
The veteran of 255 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens, and Tampa Bay Lightning signed a one-year contract with the option for a second season with Genève-Servette HC of the Swiss league in August 2014.
“I knew it was a possibility that I could be there for the rest of my career, but I was OK with it,” claims Pyatt. “I didn’t go there just to end my career, I wanted to get better, work on my skills and, you never know, you can always come back.”
The decision to go to Switzerland was also helped by the fact that Tom’s older brother Taylor Pyatt, a veteran of 859 games and 14 NHL seasons, had already signed with Servette.
Because of the six-year difference in age, the 2014-15 season was the only time the brothers spent playing together on the same team.
“I played against him a bit in the NHL, but when we were younger just on the outdoor rink,” he recalls his previous experience sharing the ice with his older brother. “I think for half that year we were on the same line, so that was pretty neat.”
“Being in professional hockey games together, it was a great experience. Being in the same room as him, I sat next to him in the dressing room too, so that’s a season we’ll always remember.”
After two seasons in the National League A, where he scored 22 goals and 62 points over 92 regular season games, Pyatt signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators in May 2016.
The opportunity to once again play under head coach Guy Boucher, who Pyatt played for during two seasons in Tampa Bay, has helped the 30-year-old transitioning back to the NHL game.
“I kind of knew what to expect when it comes to his systems. It still took some time to get it back, but I think we’re all on the same page now.”
Adapting to Boucher’s system, however, wasn’t the only adjustment for the 2005 fourth-round draft pick of the New York Rangers.
“It’s a hectic schedule,” said Pyatt of the 82 games in the NHL. “Switzerland only has 50 games, it’s a lot lighter, and you get to go home a lot. (In the NHL) you’re on the road quite a bit. The next couple weeks we’re on the road a lot so I think it’s the number of games you have to get used to. It’s a grind, but it’s fun.”
With the lighter schedule, Pyatt, a 5-foot-11, 187-pound native of Thunder Bay, Ontario was able to travel to countries he’d never visited before – a perk of his decision to take his hockey career to Europe.
“That was one of the nice things: the international breaks. The team would give us 3-4 days off and Switzerland is so centrally located, an hour flight takes you to Barcelona, Venice, London - once you’re there, everything is so close”.
But what was his favorite vacation spot?
“Tough to say. Barcelona was pretty good, however I really liked London too. It was pretty nice. You kind of get lost walking around.”
In general, going to Europe was certainly beneficial for Pyatt.
“I think actually going overseas helped me out a lot,” said Pyatt. “I got myself in more offensive situations, I was playing power play. Definitely improved my defensive game being over there. I brought some skills back here and I think that’s the part of my game I’m pretty happy (with) right now.”
Indeed, his time in the Swiss League seems to have paid off. In 2016/17, Pyatt set personal bests for games played (82) and points (23) in an NHL season.