Ice hockey: « When you see Suter and Kubalik, you tell yourself that the NHL is possible »
Injured since last weekend and for six weeks, Grégory Hofmann lived a special Sunday between injury and exchange of his rights in North America. Now he is « owned » by the Columbus Blue Jackets. What, perhaps, to open the doors of the NHL to him.
When he left Lugano to sign for Zug in 2019, Grégory Hofmann (28) had no departure clause in his contract for the NHL in case of interest from a North American team. Last summer, an agreement between Switzerland and the best world championship made this specificity obsolete. A club can therefore recruit Grégory Hofmann. Drafted in 2011 by the Carolina Hurricanes, he saw his rights be traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets on the night of Saturday to Sunday. That same day, the Romand of the Bossard Arena injured his lower body during a match in Langnau. Here he is forced to chomp on his brains for six weeks. It will be restored for the play-offs. What to recover somewhat from his emotions. Interview.
Grégory Hofmann, tell us about your special Sunday.
Individual is the right word indeed. First there was this news of the exchange. I knew something could happen. But I didn’t know what exactly or when this might happen. When I woke up, I thought to myself that there had been something when I saw the number of messages on my phone as well as all the missed calls. It came from everywhere (laughs). It happened at three in the morning and I couldn’t answer everyone.
We imagine that your former teammate Elvis Merzlikins, current Columbus goalkeeper, was part of the lot, right?
You can imagine, indeed. There was also Rick Nash (editor’s note: former Davos player and assistant general manager at Columbus) as well as Jarmo Kekäläinen, the sporting director of the Columbus Blue Jackets. We obviously haven’t been able to discuss anything yet. This will be done in the near future.
But can we imagine your future with Columbus now?
I don’t know myself. I tell myself that if a club decides to acquire the rights of a 28-year-old player, it is because they have ideas behind their heads concerning him. One thing is certain, the change of rule which took place between Switzerland and the NHL necessarily modifies the situation. This arrangement allows the players to leave, but it also allows the club to be able to compensate for this departure by a foreign player as is the case this season with the Zurich Lions who were able to replace Pius Suter with an imported one.
You mention Pius Suter. Do you think his start to the season and Dominik Kubalik’s last season helped your « record » in the eyes of NHL scouts?
You know, every player makes their own career and goes their own way. Pius and Dominik are younger than me. I have been playing a role in the Swiss championship for several seasons. But when you see Kubalik and Suter succeed in winning in NHL, it sure proves to you that it is not impossible for a player who comes from the Swiss championship. We also see in their case – and we can add Philipp Kurashev who also plays in Chicago – that the NHL franchises are not afraid to give a lot of ice time to individuals arriving from Europe. It is perhaps this point that makes me tell myself the most that it is finally something possible for me too.
And so this particular Sunday ended… with an injury.
Yes. An injury … shit, if I may say so. We are not going to communicate on the exact nature, but it is something that is ultimately not so serious. The ligaments are not affected. In short, since Sunday, I have already had a little time to put things into perspective. Negative emotions are now behind me. I have come to the conclusion that I cannot change anything more. So I get back to work to be ready as quickly as possible.
The timing is the least worse with a view to being back for the play-offs.
This is exactly what I tell myself even though the frustration is quite great.
All the more so since after a shy start to the season, by your standards obviously, you now seemed to be in great shape.
Yes it’s right. I usually start my championships on a better basis. If we take the 2019-2020 season, everything was going well for me and it was obvious that I could not keep up with such a pace. Last October, everything was not so easy from the start. I really had to fight with myself. I knew the problem was not in the game. I know myself and I also know my skills. I could see that was not the problem.
Well … I wasn’t catastrophic either (laughs). But I was not really successful. I am given a lot of confidence in Zug. I also have some. It allows me to stay calm in these somewhat more complicated times. I think this is the key. Stay calm and be aware of your qualities.
The Grégory Hofmann of 2020-2021 understood this. Wouldn’t that of 2018-2019 have remained so calm?
It’s hard to say. In Lugano, I didn’t have the same role. In Zug, the structure is different and we won matches despite everything. It might be less easy if we hadn’t continued to win. I am also more experienced today and I may have less pressure to be sidelined in case of poor shape. It helps to play in a quiet way.
How are you living this season which can end without a play-off or with a points-per-match classification?
When you’re a hockey player, you want to play the play-offs. This is the real season. We don’t want to win any differently than in the playoffs. We work in the same way and, here too, remaining calm. We know there is a possibility that the championship will end after 40 or 45 matches. We are playing our game well and preparing for the real season. We focus on what we can master: ourselves.