Sven, how are you settling in to life in Russia?
It’s not my first time here, I’ve been to Russia a few times before. Three years ago, I played at the World Championship in Moscow and 10 years ago I was here for a junior tournament. But yeah, everyone welcomed me really nice, with open arms. It’s good.
You just flew back from a camp with the Swiss national team, right?
Yeah, it was just three days over the weekend.
Is that a normal thing, to gather the national team like that during the summer?
Everyone does it! Russia has a team here too. In Switzerland we’ve done it for 10 years. When I’ve been involved with the team, it feels like we’ve always done it at the start of August.
Does it cause any disruption to your preparations with Avangard?
It’s pre-season, I asked if I could go because it’s an important year for Swiss hockey, we are hosting the World Championship in May. I could have skipped if I’d wanted to, but I talked to the coaches and the staff [at Avangard] and they said it was OK for me to go. I came straight back here [to Sochi] afterwards, so it was no problem.
I was away for about two days and I missed two warm-up games. It wasn’t a big deal.
What role did Bob Hartley play in bringing you to Avangard?
I talked with him multiple times before I came here. It was important for me to talk to the coach, important for me to know that he wants me to play for him. And I’m excited about working with him. He has such big experience in his career, in the NHL, working in the KHL last year. He’s worked in Switzerland, he’s coached a lot of great players. He explained to me how he wants to work with me, and it really captured my interest, so I’m happy to be working with him.
When you spoke, did you talk about your role on the ice this season?
We’ve not talked about specifics. But obviously we talked, he brought me here, he wanted me to be a part of his team and I want to learn from him so there is mutual interest. He wants me to be a leader for the team which I want to be also. I want to step up and be the guy who the team and the coach can count on every night. They know what they can get to me. I want to lead the team on offense but also be really solid on the defensive side. I want to be a good two-way player.
Were there any players you knew when you came to Avangard?
Well, I know everyone now! But I played with [Nikita] Shcherbak and [Alexei] Emelin in Montreal. For sure they helped me. The other imports, Cody Franson, Ville Pokke, Taylor Beck, they helped me also. Also Shirokov, he can speak England pretty well. That helped me with getting adjusted. I feel very comfortable.
Can we call them your friends, or just team-mates?
Definitely friends, I can go to them at any time for whatever I need. It’s not just hockey: finding an apartment finding a car, recommending a nice restaurant. I can go to them for anything.
Why did you choose to come to the KHL? You could have stayed in the NHL or gone back to Switzerland, where you have a strong national championship.
I think it’s the best option after the NHL, I think it’s the best hockey and the next most competitive league. And I wanted to see something else. Switzerland is also really good, it was obviously an option but I had a lot of other options too and this one was the best. I guess it’s rare that Swiss players go to the KHL but that has nothing to do with my decision. I made the choice after talking with my agent, with the coaches and the staff here at Avangard and I’m happy to be here right now.
Would you like to see Switzerland play in the Euro Hockey Tour against the other top European nations?
That’s not for me to decide but I think it would be helpful for our team.
Was there anything that surprised you when you came to Russia?
Yes and no. I was here before, so I know a little bit about it. I played with a lot of Russian players before so I know how people are. It wasn’t big but obviously there’s a bit different food, a bit of a different mentality, some things happen a bit differently here compared with what I’m used to back home or in America. It’s definitely new but I like new, I’m open-minded to everything, I’m really enjoying it so far.
You’ve been in camp with Bob Hartley now, how different is it from the preparations in the NHL?
There’s a lot of difference. Here we went to the ice two times a day and did two workouts. In the NHL it would be one time on the ice and one workout. There’s a rule that you can’t be at the rink for more than three or four hours. Here we’re at the rink basically all day. It was a little bit more intense, a bit harder than in the NHL but besides that he runs it pretty similar to the way an NHL team does it. There’s a lot of teaching because we have a lot of new players, myself as well obviously, so he teaches the system that he wants us to play. With new players you have to be patient and repeat it a couple of times. We watch it on video as well to get it into our heads. I think that’s a pretty normal process for any team, that’s why we have these camps and these pre-season games. It’s where we’re at right now.
North American coaches often say that Russian players do much more physical work in the gym. Have you found that to be true?
Honestly, it feels pretty much the same.
You’re only the third Swiss hockey player to come to Russia. Why do you think your compatriots have been reluctant to come here in the past?
I cannot tell you; I don’t choose that. I’m here! It’s hard for me to speak for other people. I can’t say why someone doesn’t want to go. For me I think it’s the best league in the world after the NHL, the best hockey played here and the best chance to get better as a player. It’s more competitive, more good teams, more stronger players. That’s my opinion, that’s why I choose to come here. I want to measure myself with the best.
Maybe one reason is that Switzerland has a really strong national championship of its own?
The Swiss league is very good. But for me, I’m 26 years old. I played over 200 games in the NHL, I have experience there. And I like new experiences in my life. I know Switzerland, obviously, so for me it would be an easy option to go back there. At this stage in my life, my wife and I want something new and we have a chance to experience Russia. Not just hockey but life here, the culture. I’m coming here because I want to be a better player but also we will live here for the whole year and we ‘ll get to know other things, new things, and I like that.
When you played in Montreal, did you find it difficult at times with such a passionate group of fans?
I loved my time in Montreal. It was amazing, playing for an original six team. The fans are crazy, they love hockey, everything’s about hockey. It can be good, but it can be really really bad. When you’re doing well as a team or as a player, they love you, you’re like a god. But if you lose, if you’re not playing too well, then you’re shit, you’re the worst. There’s nothing in between. But as player you have to learn that this is normal there. At the beinging it was hard, but I learned over time to take it easy, not to take it personally. Don’t go too high if you play good, but don’t go too low when things aren’t going so well – stay in the middle. Otherwise you hear ‘you’re the best’ you start believing it but then you hear ‘you’re shit’ and you start believing that too. It’s how they are, they’re so passionate and I love it. Those fans were amazing.
Is it difficult to play under that kind of pressure?
Not at all. I love it. It depends on the person, how you take the pressure, what you understand by it. Pressure is what you put on yourself, I don’t let anyone else – coaches, fans, media, whoever – put pressure on me. At the end of the day I’m the one who puts most pressure on myself and then the media can say what they see, what they hear when we talk, but you can’t get pressure from outside. You have to be free to play, love the game and have fun. Then you can give your best an everything will be good.
Avangard is a team that expects to be challenging to win the cup every year. Do you have experience of that kind of expectation level?
Every team wants to win. Sometimes you are in a rebuild, there are different stages for each organization. Here we were so close last year so we’re going for it. We want to win the cup 100%, that’s what I want to. I’m here to win. I want to give my best to the team, the fans, the city to win the cup. But every team I’ve been on wanted to win. Nobody goes out there to lose games. Your mindset is always that you want to win. That’s even bigger here.
Looking at your Instagram, it’s clear that you love travelling. What was your favourite trip?
It’s hard because I’ve been to so many beautiful and nice places. It depends what you want. With hockey I travel so much, everywhere in Europe. On vacation the nicest place I’ve been recently was Greece this year. I really liked Mikonos because the food was very good, pitta, gyros, hummus, Greek salad, I really like that food. We had perfect weather and I went early, in early June, so there weren’t so many people. It was nice, we had space, I was there with my fiancée, we really got to really relax and enjoy it, the people were really nice, the water was really nice, everything was perfect.
Which places are you looking forward to seeing in Russia?
I heard about a lot of beautiful places in Russia, especially St Petersburg and Moscow. I’ve to Moscow a couple of times already and I love it. It’s so big, such a crazy city. To be honest I don’t know so many places in Russia, where’s good to travel or maybe not so good. Like right now we’re here in Sochi and I like it a lot, it’s really nice, but I’d never heard about that before, nobody told me. I only found out when I came here and saw for myself. Maybe when I travel with the team in the season I’ll see a lot of cities, maybe I don’t even know the names yet, but I’ll spot places I want to go back to for a vacation.
What would be your dream vacation?
I’d love to go to the Maldives. I’ve not been yet but I always heard it was really nice, so I want to go there.