Tyler Benson went to Switzerland and got COVID.
But, that’s been the only downside to playing in Kusnacht, the lakeside town of 13,000 just outside Zurich that is one of the wealthiest enclaves in the country.
The Edmonton Oilers’ prospect winger, who tested positive Oct. 15, was sick, but not terribly so and was isolated for 10 days in Kusnacht, where the GCK Lions play in the Swiss Hockey League — the league below the top-tiered National League where Oilers’ Gaetan Haas (Bern) and farmhand Ryan McLeod (Zug) are playing right now.
“I had a bad fever … it was like a bad flu. I was wearing my mask at the rink, trying to stay as safe as possible washing my hands, using hand sanitizer. Not sure how or where I got it, but a few other players tested positive at the same time,” said the only Canadian-born player on the Zurich (National League) farm team, who is over in Europe with his girlfriend, so he didn’t go through his COVID recovery alone.
Benson, part of a crowded field for a bottom-six role on the Oilers whenever the NHL gets up and running again, has two goals and eight assists in 10 games for the GCK Lions, in sixth place in the 12-team league. He’s missed five games but he’s on the power play and is killing some penalties. It’s not the best Swiss league, but he’s playing, rather than hanging around Edmonton skating and working out in the gym.
Killing penalties is something Benson definitely wants to add to his tool-kit if he’s a bottom-six Oiler to get more minutes.
“I played a little PK in Bakersfield, but not like what I’m doing here,” said Benson, who is fairly oblivious to an NHL restart. “It’s extra ice time. I’m trying to round out every part of my game, trying not to think too much about what’s going on (with the NHL) back home. Focusing more on what I’m doing here.
“Really enjoying it. Pretty cool to experience the country, too,” added Benson, who has almost gone back to his roots at the rink in Kusnacht with a 2,800 rink capacity and a Western Hockey League Prince Albert or Swift Current feel to it.
We’re not talking Rogers Place and those 18,500 seats.
“It’s like a lot of the arenas in Edmonton I grew up playing in. One of the smallest rinks I’ve been in in a while but the hockey’s really good. Different, but good,” said Benson, the only import on the team, on the big ice surface.
“More skating involved, more movement, not as much stopping and starting. Yeah, not as much hitting as in North America.”
He didn’t think long and hard about going to Switzerland.
“Didn’t give it much thought at all. I wanted to play,” said Benson, who had played in the country once during an under-18 competition for Hockey Canada.
And he’s living in a beautiful spot on Lake Zurich.
“It feels like a suburb of Zurich and I’ve been into the city quite a few times, it’s about 10 to 15 minutes away by car,” said Benson.
The longest bus ride is about two hours. And the scenery is a little more spectacular than a ride in November through the WHL.
The only negative has been the COVID, which is a big problem in Switzerland.
“Our team got hit hard once and had to go into quarantine but a bunch of teams have had to do it more than that,” said Benson.
“There’s been times when we thought we had a game, then we find out day of that a team has tested positive and it’s postponed and we just practise that day. It’s something we’re concerned about every day.”
THIS ‘N’ THAT
The Oilers are trying to find just-signed Yale captain Phil Kemp work in a European league after the seventh-round defenceman left school when the Ivy League schools cancelled hockey this season … William Lagesson had to move from Vita Hasten in the Allvenskan in Sweden because when he signed his two-year Oilers contract, the team had too many loaned players. He’s now with Kristianstads … Goalie Olivier Rodrigue is the starter now with Graz in Austria, playing eight games with a 2.85 goals-against average. Detroit’s first-round centre Michael Rasmussen is on that team … Another Oilers draft pick, goalie Ilya Konovalov, is basically a cheerleader now in Yaroslavl with Eddy Pasquale getting almost all of the starts with a league-leading 1.53 GAA and .937 save percentage. “We’d like him to play more, but we can’t control what they do on their team,” said Oilers assisnt GM Keith Gretzky. Konovalov has a 2.19 GAA and .927 save percentage. The Oilers haven’t talked contract with him yet. His deal in Lokomotiv ends this spring … Four of Oilers prospect Dylan Holloway’s U of Wisconsin forward teammates missed weekend games against Arizona State because of COVID.
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