Julien Vauclair: From AHL to SLC

By Joeri Loonen

“I was worried about my participation in the Olympics”, Vauclair says when discussing the past few months. To be in Salt Lake City was a big personal goal for the young defenseman. Last summer when he signed a 3-year contract with the Ottawa Senators he made sure there was a clause in it which granted his release for the Olympics in case he would be called up. “Nevertheless I had to keep in mind I might not even would be selected. Coach Krüeger had said, at the end of last season, that he would try not to take any AHL-players in his squad. That was the risk of my move to North-America. Now I can say everything has been going for me but I did work very hard to achieve that.”

Vauclair is having a good season. The change of scenery clearly did not hurt him. In pre-season he competed for a roster spot in the Senators’ trainings camp for a long time. Just one week before the start of the season he was demoted to the minor affliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Vauclair:”I was really hoping I would start the season in the NHL, but I feel very good in the AHL as well now. Grand Rapids is the best team in the league at the moment. I’m progressing and can develop my game here. From Ottawa I get a lot of response on my game, and the scouts are watching every game.”

Without doubt you can say Julien Vauclair isn’t an offensive defenseman. In 269 Nationalliga A games in Switzerland he produced ‘just’ 7 goals and 21 assists. This season in the AHL he collected 14 points (4+10) in the first 46 games of the season. On the team Vauclair is one of the top 4 defenseman and therefore gets around 25 minutes of ice time per game. Also he’s playing on the powerplay and on the boxplay.

The ultimate goal, the NHL, is still some distance away though. “At Ottawa there are 9 defenseman and usually only 6 of them can play. Only when there will be a tremendous injury list I will get a call up this season. But I don’t have a problem playing in the AHL for another season, as long as I see I am progressing and come closer to the NHL-level. But it is for sure that I won’t stay in the AHL for 10 years.”
Vauclair could understand Michel Riesen, who returned to the Swiss league this fall to play for HC Davos after 3 years in North-America. “In his case I would have done the same.” Michel Riesen, Reto von Arx and Thomas Ziegler all left North-America in October to raise their chances to participate in the Olympics. From that trio though only Reto von Arx is in the Olympic squad and with Vauclair coach Ralph Krüeger has another AHL-player. Krüeger: “Julien can make the switch. He is more experienced as Mark Streit was 2 years ago and returned to Switzerland after 1 season in a worse state then that he left. Also has Julien been a safe bet on our defense in the past 2 seasons.”

Since 2 years the 22-year old is a lock on the defense on the team of Krüeger. And Vauclair is more productive in the national team jersey then in the league (5 goals in 56 games). When Vauclair saw his Swiss teammates on the ice for the first time last week it was a “special moment” for him. There he didn’t notice many changes. “I didn’t feel I failed during the two practices we’ve had so far. Everything is still the same as it was lst season. There are only a couple of new faces on the team.” And what about the goal during the Olympics for the Swiss team? “Of course we want to make it to the final round. My personal goal is to play a solid and good tournament.”