The experiment is off to a rousing start.
When the Detroit Red Wings signed free-agent forward Damien Brunner over the summer, they did so with the idea of playing him alongside Henrik Zetterberg. The NHL lockout put a hold on those plans — at least until Zetterberg contacted his new teammate a couple weeks back and inquired about joining him in Switzerland with EV Zug.
They’ve been inseparable ever since.
“Detroit said they were going to put (Brunner) on a line with Zetterberg, so I got to do it first,” Zug coach Doug Shedden said Wednesday in an interview. “I texted (Red Wings GM) Kenny Holland and said: ‘It works.”’
Has it ever.
Zetterberg is playing like a man possessed with seven goals and 11 points in just five league games — four of them victories for Zug to go along with a shootout loss — while Brunner sits on top of the Swiss scoring table. The third member of the line, former Edmonton Oilers forward Linus Omark, is also among the league leaders in points.
The NHL lockout has helped make it a special season for Shedden, a Canadian-born former NHL player who has coached all over Europe and North America during the last two decades.
He wasn’t sure what to expect when he first learned an elite-calibre player like Zetterberg would be coming to Zug. But after Shedden and his wife had the chance to take the former Conn Smythe Trophy winner to dinner it was clear he hadn’t arrived in Switzerland looking for a vacation.
“He’s made our power play better, he’s made our penalty killing better and he’s made all of our players in the dressing room better just by being around him,” Shedden said of Zetterberg.
The connection with Brunner could benefit the Red Wings once the NHL’s work stoppage ends.
A number of NHL teams showed interest in the 26-year-old Brunner over the summer after he was named Swiss league MVP last season. Highly skilled and lightning fast — “He ends up getting a lot of breakaways,” said Shedden — he signed with the Red Wings on July 1 and stayed at Zetterberg’s house when he visited Detroit.
“In talking to Zetterberg, he likes him and thinks he should be able to play (in the NHL),” said Shedden.
Zug currently sits seventh in the 12-team league, but has played fewer games than all of the teams ahead of it in the standings. A victory over SC Bern on Friday would move them up at least one spot.
The Swiss league has been a big beneficiary of the NHL lockout, with John Tavares, Jason Spezza, Rick Nash, Joe Thornton, Patrice Bergeron, Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin among the other high-profile players to come over.