KARLSTAD, Sweden – Severin Blindenbacher was one of the keys to the ZSC Lions Zurich title run in the Champions Hockey League last season.
The 26-year-old has roots with the Kloten Flyers organization, but played for ZSC the last four years. With 34 points in 51 games, Blindenbacher belonged to the defencemen with the biggest offensive production in the Swiss league.
Blindenbacher is also part of the class that brought home the silver medal from the 2001 World U18 Championship.
His figures last season evoke Mark Streit, who left Zurich for Montreal with 43 points in the 2004-2005 regular season to become an all-star defenceman in the NHL a few years later.
Blindenbacher hasn’t gone that far yet, but he’s learning from another hockey culture, signing with Färjestad Karlstad of the Swedish league this season.
Färjestad liked what they saw during his performance in the CHL, especially when ZSC earned an impressive win in Sweden, 7-2 at Linköping.
When he came back to the Swiss national team to compete at the Deutschland Cup in Munich, Blindenbacher looked like a different player. He was not a typical offensive-minded defenceman, he showed an improved, dominating play in both directions.
“There are some details that changed like in positioning. I’m more active defensively in some situations,” Blindenbacher said after his first months in Sweden. “I had to adjust to several things and to learn, but that’s why I went there, to see something different. It will help me develop into a better player.”
Blindenbacher went to a different league, the Elitserien. A league which is considered the better league than its Swiss counterpart, despite Switzerland’s success on the European club competition scene.
“I would say the leagues are different. The Swedes are tactically very skilled, they very much emphasize that,” Blindenbacher said. “But it makes playing hockey more difficult. Some of the players also have more individual skills, are physically strong and can skate longer with the puck. It’s interesting to play here, it’s a challenge. I’ve learned some things, but I could also take advantage of things I brought with me from Switzerland.”
The defenceman had a strong start to the season as the team’s top scorer, and Färjestad led the standings for a short time.
But since then, Färjestad has dropped to fourth place, and Blindenbacher’s figures have stayed at six points (3+3) in 23 games. But the Swiss is still the skater with the most ice time on the team. He averages 22:54 minutes and he shoots more often than any other Färjestad defenceman with 48 shots.
First place went back with HV71 Jönköping. “They’re the favourite in the league, but the season is long,” he said. “We have a team with great guys, we had many players going and coming, so we have to harmonize first. But if we continue, we will have a good season.”
Leaving the big city lifestyle of Zurich for the idyllic town at Lake Vänern is a cultural change Blindenbacher doesn’t mind as he has more time for himself.
“It’s a hockey-crazy town. Everybody knows so much about hockey,” he said. “There’s not much going on, it’s rather calm, idyllic, Swedish. People are not so much into nightlife here. There are not hundred of restaurants. People prefer to stay at home. It’s beautiful here, I can be alone and I can fully focus on hockey.”
He has also enough time for one of his hobbies, cooking, although he doesn’t experiment with the Swedish culture. “I leave that to the Swedes, but I’m happy to have a huge kitchen for my own cuisine,” he said. Twice a week he’s also visited by a Swedish teacher.
Despite the lifestyle, there’s still pressure. The reigning champion hopes for higher than fourth place and recently the club has lost five of its last six games including a 5-0 loss at home against HV71.
There’s potential for improvement both for Blindenbacher and Färjestad. His Swiss predecessors in Karlstad, Martin Gerber and Marcel Jenni, led the club to the 2002 title. Blindenbacher hopes to follow in their footsteps and get the golden helmet at the end of the season.
He also wants to be in good shape before leaving the Swedish inland for Vancouver. “The 2010 Olympics are one of my goals. Turin 2006 was a great experience and I think Vancouver will be unimaginable. You cannot compare it with other tournaments,” he said. “It’s far away right now, but I give everything to be there. Switzerland will have a strong team. We beat two big hockey nations last time, so why shouldn’t it happen again? Everybody is four years older and more experienced. Let’s see what will happen.”