Currently playing the role of top defenseman for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL, Flyers’ prospect Luca Sbisa has big goals in mind and his offseason already planned.
“I’m going to go back to Switzerland for a little bit this offseason and will finish up some college credits,” Sbisa told Al Alven of Philadelphiaflyers.com. “After that, I’ll be spending lots of time in Philly to work on some things. I want to try to add more muscle, improve my strength and work on my speed, so I’ll be working very closely with [Flyers trainer] Jim McCrossin.”
Sbisa has logged about 30-35 minutes a game and has played in all aspects for the Hurricanes, who are up 3-2 in a best of seven series with the Saskatoon Blades.
“I realized when I got back to Lethbridge that this was a chance for me to do some things I missed, like playing lots of minutes and getting power play time,” Sbisa said. “I really did miss that stuff. It was also a chance to go for a championship and try to contend for the Memorial Cup, which would be great.”
Many believe that once his junior season ends, the Flyers could recall Sbisa to become a playoff call up. He would not see any ice time unless someone was injured, but typically NHL clubs want players like Sbisa to practice and work out with the team, while also being an insurance policy.
“I’ve tried to continue following the guys as closely as possible,” Sbisa said. “I keep in touch with a lot of guys on the team, and we talk on the phone every week. They still view me as being part of the team, and that means a lot to me.”
Arriving with the Flyers as a 18-year old, Sbisa (as for most rookies) did not expect to make the team. But the Swiss youngster absolutely wowed the Flyers’ brass, who kept him with the big club for close to half the season, before being forced to send him back to juniors where he could get the ice time needed to improve.
“Luca stepped right back in and was a huge late-season addition to our team,” Lethbridge General Manager Roy Stasiuk told Alven. “To tell you the truth, I think he had to slow down a bit and reacquaint himself to the pace of the game at this level. He was moving at a slightly different speed when he got here, but it didn’t take him long to adjust. He’s been outstanding for us, as expected.”
When Sbisa arrived in Philly, he was blown away at the reception he received from the players and the organization.
“The first thing is just the locker room, with all my teammates there,” he said. “Mike Richards is the best leader I’ve ever played with. I’ll never forget when he walked up to me and introduced himself on my first day there. Kimmo Timonen is like the captain of the defense, and almost a father figure for the young guys.”
But what impressed him the most was the Philly game-day atmosphere.
“A lot of times, people around the league asked me what my favorite building to play is, and I always said the Wachovia Center,” he said. “The building is so loud, and the fans are so passionate. Every time I did an event where I met the fans, they were so nice to me. It’s just a great city and I love playing there.”
With other high prospects wavering on whether to turn pro and improve their game, General Manager Paul Holmgren must be elated with where Luca’s head is. He wants to be in the NHL, he wants to keep getting better and he wants to win a championship.
“I feel like I am a big game player,” said Sbisa. “Like, when the pressure is on, I can play my best. I’ve always felt this way, but I really like the big game atmosphere, and the playoffs, when everything is on the line. That’s when I feel that I’m at my best. That’s what I hope to experience in Philly some day. There were some big games I was a part of with the Flyers this year, with the building packed and the fans going crazy. I loved that. I loved the rush and the emotion of it. You can really feed off of it and it fires you up to go out and get the job done.”