To find David Aebischer’s stats in the National Hockey League’s 2012 Guide and Record Book, you have to flip all the way to the back pages, to the listing ‘Retired NHL goaltender index.’
We can tell you Aebischer is definitely not retired. He was last seen skating this week in practice with the St. John’s IceCaps, but as for playing, well, it’s easy to see why some people might think Aebischer has hung up the goalie pads.
While he backed up Peter Mannino last Saturday night in a 3-1 IceCaps’ win over the Norfolk Admirals at Mile One, Aebischer’s last American Hockey League appearance came Nov. 6 in Bridgeport, when he stopped 10 of 13 Sound Tigers shots before he was lifted early in the second period.
In five IceCaps games this season, the Swiss puckstop is 2-3 with a 3.49 goals against average and less-than-stellar .871 save percentage. By contrast, Mannino is 4-2 with a 2.32 GAA, while the team’s other goaltender, Eddie Pasquale, is 6-1 with a 2.73 average.
Pasquale, who is quickly emerging as a top prospect for the Jets, is 21. Mannino is 27, while Aebischer turns 34 in February.
Aebischer doesn’t know when he will see game action again — the IceCaps play host to the Toronto Marlies this weekend — and the parent Winnipeg Jets are tight-lipped as to how long they will keep the goaltending triumvirate in place on the farm.
The IceCaps lead the AHL’s Eastern Conference with 27 points, and are tied for first overall in the league with the Abbotsford Heat, with a game in hand. This despite the fact three defenceman from opening night — Mark Flood, Brett Festerling and Arturs Kulda — and team captain Jason Jaffray are on recall to Winnipeg.
So chronicling a struggling veteran netminder might not seem like news, unless that puckstop just happens to have the most NHL games of any player in the IceCaps roster, is a Stanley Cup winner, two-time Olympian and five times a world championship participant.
Aebischer, from Fribourg, toiled with Lugano of the Swiss Elite league the past four years, struggling through a 2010-11 campaign that saw Lugano win just 12 of 50 games and finish out of the playoffs.
It had been a while since Aebischer experienced life as a North American pro, and the sweet taste has lingered.
Problem was there weren’t a lot of options, until the Jets put out the call last summer.
Aebischer attended Winnipeg’s camp, but was eventually reassigned to St. John’s where he agreed on a one-year minor league deal. Not included in the contract is an out clause allowing him to return home.
“Things didn’t go as well as I had wanted in Switzerland,” he said this week. “I wanted to try and play in the NHL one last time. I wanted one more crack at it.
“The team (Lugano) didn’t perform the way it could have so for me, it was a good time to seek something else.”
Aebischer has no regrets returning to North America. Though he acknowledges it’s been a frustrating experience so far, he’s working hard, trying to stay sharp, yada, yada.
“There’s no doubt you want to play,” he said, “and it’s a lot easier to be on top of your game when you’re playing a lot.”
Aebischer was backup to Patrick Roy when the Colorado Avalanche won the 2001 Stanley Cup. Three years later, he was the No. 1 goaltender in Denver. Following the lockout, Aebischer was dealt to Montreal Canadiens in a trade involving Jose Theodore. He toiled the next year for the Habs before signing a free agent contract with the Phoenix Coyotes.
The desert turned out to be the beginning of the end for Aebischer. He made only one appearance for Phoenix, and was banished to San Antonio of the AHL, where he made five more starts. And then it was a one-way flight home.
“I was kind of forced to go back,” he said. “It was early in the season and no team was looking for a goaltender, and Phoenix didn’t want to play me anymore, even in the AHL. So I had to find something elsewhere.”
Aebischer says the Jets have not approached him about playing in another AHL city, or heading back overseas. Rather, he said, his focus is on St. John’s and playing bigger minutes for the IceCaps.
Given the nature of minor pro hockey, nothing rarely stays the same, so who’s to say Aebischer won’t be playing a lot for the IceCaps next week or next month.
It’s just that right now, things are looking quite blurry for him in St. John’s.
Twitter @ TelyRobinShort