Haas hopes Swiss make history
by Lucas Aykroyd|25 JAN 2020
Gaetan Haas, now in his first NHL season with Edmonton, played an important part in Switzerland's silver medal run at the 2018 Worlds.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
At age 27, Gaetan Haas is older than your average first-year NHL player. The four-time IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship participant and former star in Switzerland’s National League, who won a championship with SC Bern last season, is working hard to keep his roster spot with the Edmonton Oilers.

Never drafted, the speedy two-way forward signed a one-year deal on 2 July to play for coach Dave Tippett’s team. After being scratched for four NHL games and playing two games with the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors in October, Haas, who stands 183 cm and 82 kg, is hitting his stride in a bottom-six role.

The Oilers, who last won the Stanley Cup in 1990, have a legitimate shot at returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 and making some noise. So it’s possible Haas won’t be available to suit up on home ice at the 2020 Worlds in Zurich and Lausanne (8 to 24 May). Still, he’d be a welcome addition for Swiss coach Patrick Fischer. Last season with SC Bern, he totalled 15 goals and 23 assists in 50 games.

The former EHC Biel-Bienne player was too young to make the national team when the tournament last came to Switzerland in 2009 (Berne and Kloten), although he did make his IIHF debut with the eighth-place Swiss team at the U18 Worlds in North Dakota that year. His resume also includes two World Juniors (2011, 2012) and the 2018 Olympics. He was on the team that won silver at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

IIHF.com caught up with Haas recently.

How do you feel about your play this season?

Definitely I feel more confident. At the beginning, I was just playing and hoping not to make a mistake. I think now I’m starting to play my game a little bit more. I can improve for sure. I get the puck and I’m trying to make some plays. That’s good for me, because that’s my game. After a few months, I’m more used to it and starting to play better. It’s good for me, good for the team, because I can help more than in the beginning.

Do you stay in touch with the other Swiss guys around the NHL?

Nico Hischier is a good friend. We stay in touch and send a couple of messages all the time. I know all the Swiss guys in the league. I talked a lot in the summer with those guys. They tried to help me. It’s a good situation.

You’ve played in some big, spectacular home arenas. How would you compare Berne and Edmonton?

The arena in Berne is one of the biggest in Europe. There is a huge atmosphere. It’s a little bit of a different style here. Rogers Place is like brand-new. It’s so cool, so nice. But still, when you play in Berne, it’s a really good atmosphere. It’s nice to see something, to see the big league. I’m really happy to be here and just enjoying every moment.

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are both vying for the NHL scoring title. Which of them do you think will win it?

I don’t know. I hope they are even! They play together and they help the team so much. In the end, I think both deserve to be high in the scoring race.

This season, you’re wearing number 91. Is it fun to be wearing the same number as Vladimir Tarasenko, John Tavares, and Steven Stamkos?

[laughs] That was not the reason, actually! I changed because Tomas Jurco took number 92. That was the number I always had. And number 11 was hanging high in Rogers Place [Mark Messier]! So I couldn’t take it. Jeff Lang, our head equipment manager, just came to me with 91 and asked me: ’What do you think about 91?’ I was like, ’Yeah, it’s a mix between 92 and 11.’ So I took it.

After scoring your first NHL goal against the Arizona Coyotes on 4 November, what did you end up doing with the puck?

Actually, I still don’t have it! I’m waiting for it. I don’t know. They want to make something special, I guess. I’ll wait for it. I just want to stay on the path I am right now and try to improve my game a little bit more so I can help the team with more goals – and assists too!

In 2018, when Switzerland won the silver medal at the Worlds in Denmark, you scored the winner against Canada in the semi-final. That eliminated three of your current Edmonton teammates: McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Darnell Nurse. Have you talked about it with those guys?

Yeah, I talked about that at our rookie party! [laughs] They asked the guys to make some jokes about the other guys, and I just put that on the table.

How do you feel about the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship taking place in Switzerland?

It’s huge for us, huge for the country, for hockey in Switzerland that we’ve got the World Championship this year. Everybody is happy and excited to have it there. The team has proved in recent years that we can have good results. This year is really special and we hope to have maybe the best result in history in Switzerland.