Kris Schmidli celebrated his 17th birthday this summer by realizing the first big step in a childhood dream.
On July 3, the Swiss-born forward was chosen by the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets in the 2013 CHL import draft.
After watching fellow Swiss player Eric Arnold play for the Moose Jaw Warriors in 2011, Schmidli knew exactly what path he wanted his hockey career to follow.
“For two years, (before the draft) my dream was to play in the WHL,” said Schmidli, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound forward from Zurich. “I would see him (Arnold) in the highlights and I wanted that too. I was happy to be drafted. Now I’m here in Kelowna…it’s unbelievable.”
Like many European players, there’s been an adjustment period for Schmidli in learning the language, the nuances of Canadian culture and the North American style of play.
On the ice, so far, so good for Schmidli who has two goals and nine points, and is gradually adapting to the smaller ice surface compared to that of Europe.
“I miss that one (extra) metre (of ice),” Schmidli said with a laugh, referring to the smaller dimensions of a WHL rink. “You haven’t a lot of time. In Switzerland, in junior you can do one more move…you can’t do it here. I’m learning, getting better.”
Considering Schmidli is just a few months past his 17th birthday, a long way from home, and relatively new to the WHL game, Rockets coach Ryan Huska said the young forward is making positive progress.
“I think he’s starting to feel more comfortable with the style here and the way things are done,” Huska said. “It’s a challenge for a young man, he’s only 17 and sometimes we forget that. He’s done a good job of learning our game and he’s continuing to improve.”
Schmidli is part of a growing wave of Swiss players who are making an impact in North American hockey.
The number of players from Switzerland chosen in the CHL import draft rose to an historical high of 10 this year, the third most of all European nations behind Russia and the Czech Republic.
There are currently seven Swiss players in the NHL, including Mark Streit, Jonas Hiller, Nino Niedereitter, and one of Schmidli’s favourite players, Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators.
The recent surge of his countrymen in both pro and junior hockey in North America gives hope to Schmidli and other young Swiss players like him.
“This is nice (to be in the WHL) because you know it’s possible,” Schmidli said. “You see all the guys playing right now and it shows you what you can do. It’s not impossible (for Swiss players).”
On Wednesday night, Schmidli had an assist on the game’s first goal as the Rockets rolled over visiting Red Deer 6-2 for their fifth straight win.
Rocket Shots…The B.C. Division-leading Rockets (12-2-0-2) continue a four-game home stand with two dates this weekend at Prospera Place. The Prince George Cougars will be in town Friday, followed by a visit from the Edmonton Oil Kings on Saturday…Kelowna was rated seventh this week in the Canadian Hockey League’s top-10 rankings.