VANCOUVER — If Cory Schneider was looking for a challenge after going seven months without a game, he seems to have found it with his new Swiss League team.
The Vancouver Canucks’ goalie has signed a deal with HC Ambri-Piotta, which is not exactly a powerhouse. The team has won only seven of 25 games so far this season and is currently 11th in the 12-team league.
Ambri-Piotta, known locally as the “Bianco-Blu” (white and blues), has scored 61 goals this season and surrendered 92. In other words, the team’s defence has been like, well, Swiss cheese.
Schneider will be asked to fill some of those holes. He left Wednesday for Switzerland, is scheduled to practise with his new team Thursday and could play as early as Saturday against sixth-place Kloten.
Schneider holds dual U.S.-Swiss citizenship so the team did not have to burn an import spot to sign him.
The Ambri-Piotta website said Schneider’s deal with the team runs through Dec. 31 with an option to renew should the NHL lockout continue into the new year.
His signing is not a good omen for those thinking a NHL labour deal is imminent. Schneider has been actively involved in the labour talks and likely would not have headed overseas had he felt a deal was close.
Schneider hinted on Monday that he was anxious to play somewhere soon.
“I play hockey for a living,” Schneider said. “At some point, I really want to play hockey, whether it’s here or abroad. I think it’s more important for my career going forward to stay sharp and stay prepared and get games in because 18 months without game action is not a good thing for a goalie, or for anybody for that matter.”
Ambri-Piotta has been a perennial cellar-dweller in recent years, but the club has not been relegated to the Swiss B League since being promoted in 1985.
Ambrì and Piotta are two tiny villages in the municipality of Quinto, located in southern Switzerland and not far from the Italian border.
The team plays in a rink with only 2,000 seats, with standing room space for 5,000.
The team’s website said sponsors stepped forward to help cover the costs of Schneider’s contract. Schneider could not be reached for comment Wednesday and his agent, Mike Liut, did not return messages.
Schneider will likely take over from Nolan Schaefer, who has started most of Ambri-Piotta’s games this season. Schaefer is the younger brother of former Canuck Peter Schaefer.
Schneider is just the third Canuck regular to sign in Europe. Winger Jannik Hansen is playing with Tappara Tampere of the Finnish League, while fellow forward Dale Weise is playing with the Tilburg Trappers in the Dutch League.
SCOUTING IN SWEDEN: With no current salary cap concerns to deal with, Canucks assistant general manager Laurence Gilman has just returned from a scouting trip to Sweden.
Gilman met with three players the Canucks selected in the 2011 draft.
Nicklas Jensen, Vancouver’s first-round pick in 2011, is playing for AIK in the Swedish Elite League. Jensen has cooled off after a hot start and has nine goals and 12 points in 24 games.
“His team is not playing that great, but he is playing on their second line,” Gilman said. “He is getting some power-play time, he is playing in all kinds of situations whether they are up a goal or down a goal. He’s averaging 16 and a half to 17 minutes a game and he is playing in a league with men. So that’s pretty good.”
Gilman liked what he saw and heard about the play of seventh-round pick Henrik Tommernes, a defenceman playing with Frolunda of the Elite League.
“He is averaging about 23 minutes a game,” Gilman said of the 22-year-old. “He is leading his team in ice time. When I saw him the coaches used him both on right side and the left side. He plays on the power play and also kills penalties. By all accounts he’s a pretty good selection by our scouts.”
Gilman also visited with Ludwig Blomstrand, a 19-year-old winger who was Vancouver’s fourth-round pick in 2011 and recently joined Almtuna in the Swedish second division.
“I saw him play his first game and he scored,” Gilman said. “He’s big and he’s strong and skates very well.”
THEY’RE NO. 7: Forbes magazine says the Canucks are worth $342 million, making them the seventh most valuable franchise in the NHL. The Toronto Maple Leafs top the list, with a value Forbes pegged at $1 billion.
The New York Rangers were next at $750 million followed by the Montreal Canadiens ($575 million), Chicago Blackhawks ($350 million) and Boston Bruins ($348 million).