Swiss goaltender vying for 67's top job

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

Question: What are 'Swiss Miss' and 'Swiss Cheese'? Answer: Potential headlines Ottawa hockey fans would rather not read this season.

In search of a new No. 1 goalie this summer, both the Senators and 67's turned to products of Switzerland. While Martin Gerber will work between the pipes for the local NHLers, 17-year-old Lukas Flueler is expected to serve as Brian Kilrea's last line of defence.

Now, if you're trying to think of another North American city that boasts a single Swiss player, let your mind wander a couple of hours down Hwy. 40, to where a couple -- goalie David Aebischer and defenceman Mark Streit -- were members of the Montreal Canadiens last season.

After that, good luck.

"He's famous," Flueler said of how Gerber -- whom he has yet to meet -- is perceived in his homeland. "A lot of other (Swiss players) come here one week and are back home the next."

EASY CHOICE

Two days into 67's training camp, Flueler is settling into his new home quite nicely. Picked 21st in the Canadian Hockey League's import draft, he didn't have to think twice about the opportunity, even though it meant moving so far away from his family at such a young age. Big (6-foot-3, 190 lbs.) and mobile, he has the potential to be a high selection in next June's NHL draft playing for Kilrea on what should be a good OHL team.

"It's new for me," said Flueler, who is living with the same billet (Sandy Wilson) that provided a home away from home for former 67's goalie Danny Battochio. "With your parents, when you have a bad day, they have good words for you. Now I'm here alone. But I'm 17, and I've been here less than one month. I've missed my home, but it's not like I've cried. I like it here. It's perfect. Before I came, in Switzerland people said there was french fries, more junk food. But the food is the same. The fruits, the salads ... I like the meat here in Canada.

"Ottawa is a nice city. There's not a big difference from my hometown (Zurich)."

Last month, Flueler had the opportunity to skate at the Bell Sensplex with NHLers like Daniel Alfredsson, Todd White, Zdeno Chara and Jason York. By all accounts, he fit in well.

"He's so big ... you barely have anything to shoot at when you're coming in on him," said 67's defenceman Elgin Reid. "And he's just as quick down low. I don't know what more you could ask for in a goalie.

"He's shy, happy-go-lucky, and he's already hard on himself. He thought he played like crap (yesterday). I told him, 'you probably faced like 60 shots, and two of the goals were tip-ins. Don't worry about it.' He's a young kid and he's going to learn."

And Flueler is not getting ahead of himself. He quickly dismisses talk about the next NHL draft, saying that his only concern is to win the battle for the 67's No. 1 goalie job. His competition is coming from last year's backup, Brady Morrison, and rookies Max Strang and Jodie O'Neil.

USED TO 500 FANS

It would be a surprise if he's not between the pipes when the 67's open their regular season Sept. 22.

"I don't know the feeling of playing in front of 10,000 people," said Flueler, who would generally play in front of 500-1,000 with the Kloten Flyers junior team last season. "There will be more noise, more pressure ... I want to go out and fight for that. I look forward to the feeling."

ICE CHIPS: After aggravating a knee injury on Day 1, C Logan Couture skated alone between sessions yesterday. He may rejoin his teammates this morning, when the 67's resume two-a-day workouts, but he won't be rushed back ... Two hopefuls to catch Kilrea's eye yesterday were Ws Julian Cimadamore and Shane Innes. The latter scored three goals in the afternoon scrimmage ... Kilrea won't be making any cuts until after tomorrow's scrimmage. He says along with the new goalie (Flueler), his first overall pick (D Tyler Cuma) and his three second-rounders (Fs Cody Lindsay, Thomas Nesbitt and Matt Ribeiro), another one or two defencemen and one forward could be making the team as first-year players. Are returning players guaranteed a spot? "Some of the veterans may find themselves surprised," said Kilrea.


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