Max Pacioretty in action during his first of five Swiss A League games for Ambrì Piotta.
© Photo courtesy Yvonne Leonardi
The Gazette/Hockey Inside Out
After five games, one goal, three games on the sidelines for reasons not entirely clear and no shortage of murky rumours at the end, Max Pacioretty’s three-week NHL lockout adventure in Switzerland has come to an end.
The Canadiens forward left his Swiss A League cellar-dwelling Ambrì Piotta club on Tuesday and prepared to return to North America. He was expected to fly back to his native Connecticut on Wednesday and resume on- and off-ice work with longtime trainer Ben Prentiss for the 2012-13 NHL season that might or might not take place.
The tidiest explanation for Pacioretty’s departure from Swiss hockey – a little speculation based on information from solid sources on two continents – might be the curious manner in which he was used by a team that imported him from North America with much fanfare.
This much is certain, no matter Tuesday’s official team smokescreen:
Pacioretty was scratched his final three games, the first two with what the team insisted was the flu. But there’s little question the 23-year-old was fit enough to play the second game and, probably, the first, having taken part in that morning’s skate.
The third game, played last Saturday, saw Pacioretty left out of the lineup by Kevin Constantine when the coach believed his team was on the brink of snapping its 10-game losing streak. It did, upsetting Rick Nash and Joe Thornton’s Davos at Ambrì.
As Pacioretty packed up to leave Tuesday, he was nearing two weeks without having played a game, dealing with a minor elbow injury and practising with team spares.
More details about his exit from Ambrì should emerge in the days ahead to shed more light on an experience that reads, as Gordon Lightfoot famously sang, “just like a paperback novel, the kind that drugstores sell.”
On Tuesday, there was no reading Pacioretty’s mind – or having a word with him – as he packed up for his trip home. Just rest assured that the NHL hasn’t cornered the market on dysfunctional teams.
Shortly after 6 p.m. Swiss time Tuesday, Pacioretty saluted Ambrì fans with a farewell message on his Twitter account:
“Thank you #HCAP fans for all of the support. It was an honor to play in front of you especially in Valascia,” he tweeted, referencing the club’s open-ended, fresh-air arena.
There’s also no question Pacioretty grew close to his teammates during his short stay and will cherish many memories of his first-ever trip to Switzerland.
In five games with Ambrì, he scored once, six minutes into his first match, took four penalty minutes and finished minus-2 with 22 shots on goal.
He never tasted victory, arriving in the tiny village with his club two losses into what would be a 10-game losing streak, Ambrì sinking into the 12-team league basement.
The club reported Tuesday that Pacioretty never fully recovered from his flu and asked to be released, saying he’d be welcome to return at any time. The club also said he was suffering from inflammation of an elbow that all believed would be better treated in North America.
Alex Schall, Pacioretty’s agent, said Tuesday that while the player is nursing a couple of minor, lingering injuries, they in no way will impede his preparation for the 2012-13 NHL season, assuming it happens.
Pacioretty had left home for Switzerland the last week of September with high hopes, both for himself and the team of Constantine, a 1978 Canadiens goaltending draft pick who from 1993-2002 coached 377 NHL games in San Jose, Pittsburgh and New Jersey.
“(Constantine) called me to tell me their situation – that they haven’t made the playoffs in six years and that they’re not looking for someone who wants to come over on vacation,” he said of the coach’s recruiting pitch.
“I explained to him that I have intentions of helping them win and playing my heart out. I was happy to have that conversation with him. … I told him the truth: that I want to go over there and play and work on my game and help them win.”
Pacioretty’s departure deprives Swiss fans of an anticipated head-to-head duel with Canadiens defenceman Raphael Diaz, whose EV Zug travels Saturday to face Ambrì.
Swiss-native defencemen Diaz and Yannick Weber, who plays for league-leading Geneva-Servette are the two Canadiens who remain in the Swiss A League.
Diaz, riding an eight-game point streak, is tied for second in league scoring with 13 points on three goals and 10 assists. He’s plus-4 with four penalty minutes and 22 shots on goal.
Weber has six points on three goals and three assists. He has 14 penalty minutes, having taken four minors in his second game, and is minus-4 with 33 shots.
With a couple weeks training at home in Connecticut, there’s a good chance Pacioretty will join the barnstorming Tournée des joueurs. The Canadiens forward has stayed in touch with several of the players taking part in the charity event, which is in Drummondville this Thursday and Sorel-Tracy on Friday.
With Habs centreman David Desharnais also taking part in the travelling show, Pacioretty might eventually be reunited with his two linemates from last season:
Winger Erik Cole checked in by text message Tuesday to happily report he’s now officially locked out – seriously, he did – having rehabilitated a months-old lower-body injury to the point that he’s been declared fit to play by the Canadiens medical staff.
“Can’t say enough thank-yous to Graham and Nick for getting me healthy!!” Cole texted about Habs head athletic therapist Graham Rynbend and his assistant, Nick Addey-Jibb.