Shall Swiss Sven’s Success Story Stop?

By Joeri Loonen

Sven Helfenstein started playing hockey at the age of 6 in the town of Winterthur when a schoolmate of him took him to a hockey game and little Sven fell in love with hockey. Almost 15 years later he can thank his friend for taking him to the rink. Helfenstein turned out to be an better then average player in Switzerland during his youth and soon found his way into the famous youth department of EHC Kloten, which he won the national junior champiosnhip with twice, and tasted first team action for the first time during the 1998-99 season. The following season he was a full time member of the pro team registering 6 goals and 4 assists in 46 games and was voted rookie of the season, “One of my highlights of my career so far, along with my participations at World Junior Championships,” Helfenstein mentions.

He started the 2000-01 season at EHC Kloten as the young star and ended the season with a minimum role at relegated La-Chaux-de-Fonds. Did his good performance at the U-18 WC that year (he only was one point away from the scoring title) make him overconfident in himself? Did things move to his head when he got drafted by the New York Rangers and was invited for pre-season camp? Helfenstein is perhaps one of the best 1982-players in the world when it gets to technique and skating. He can fake defensemen with swift body moves, creating room for teammates. He is also capable of releasing a quick wrister, just as his idol. Helfenstein: “Pavel Bure is my idol for sure, he’s a great sniper I admire a lot. However my favourite team always used to be the Pittsburgh Penguins, they had Jagr, another great sniper. Now after getting drafted I am a fan of the New York Rangers of course.”

Because Helfenstein holds a good balance he knows how to use his body but also how to stay on his feet while being on the other end of a check, but he is not getting his nose dirty very often. Helfenstein: “I do not like to play the physical game and prefer the skating game instead, but sometimes it’s necessary to play physical and I am not afraid by it. But I need to get bigger and stronger as the way I see it, I am too small for it at the moment.” He has the ability to become a top sniper in the Swiss league for sure.

But all those qualities can also thwart the progression of a player. In the Nationalliga A the opponents were bigger, stronger and better than in the juniors. Helfenstein got impatient and started doing the wrong things. He wanted too much, went for shots when there was no room to shoot, etc. Helfenstein’s qualities (hailed by the media) slowed down his progression that way. As a young player when reading all these flattering things, you start to believe in them and you think you can beat everyone in the world. Helfenstein saw himself being assigned to the farm team of EHC Kloten, HC Thurgau in the Nationalliga B, and immediately his agent Roly Thompson reacted and came up with a transfer to La Chaux-de-Fonds. They were last in the league by far, but at least he could play at the Nationalliga A level again.

At the international level things changed too for “Helfie”. From being a star in spring with the U-18 team, he was no more than an average player in the U-20 team. In 12 games with the U-20 team he only managed 1 goal and 3 assists along with a minus 4 rating. With that he was only forward #8 in scoring on the team.

This season Helfenstein was traded to SC Bern. “This team is fantastic, the fans here are fantastic and very noisy!” Helfenstein could show he had learned from his ‘mistakes’ the previous season. And with expections not that high any longer. Helfenstein had a decent season with 2 goals and 12 points in 35 games. He had a good point scoring streak when he was playing on the first line for a few games along with former Ranger Derek Armstrong. After the WJC in the Czech Republic, where Helfenstein lacked in front of goal but his overall play was up to par on the Swiss first line, Helfenstein was taken off the top line. Also his ice time on the power play diminished and this carried on for the remainder of the season. He finished the season with 6 playoff games staying scoreless.

At the WJC mentioned above, Helfenstein just missed out a bronze medal after losing to Finland in the bronze medal game. Other than his 2 assists his only goal in the tournament proved a vital one, as it threw the Slovak U-20 team out of the tournament. But only a penalty shot goal out of 17 shots during the whole tournament was a big disappointment for Sven himself to, he admitted.

So much talent can not get lost so quickly. But Helfenstein should keep in mind that time is running out for him, and that if he wants to have a future with the Rangers he should take his game to another level soon. That is something that can not be done by teammates or the media. That battle he has to fight himself.

Sven Helfenstein:

Position: RW

Shoots: R

Born: July 30th, 1982

Height: 5’11

Weight: 176

Acquired: 2000 NHL Draft, 6th round, 175th overall

Year Team LeagueGP G A PTS PIM

98-99 EHC Kloten NLA 2 0 0 0 0

98-99 Switzerland WJC18 7 1 5 6 0

99-00 EHC Kloten NLA 40 6 3 9 28

99-00 EHC Kloten NLA* 6 0 1 1 0

99-00 Switzerland WJC18 7 5 6 11 2 +3

99-00 Switzerland WJC20 7 2 4 6 2 -2

00-01 EHC Kloten NLA 8 1 1 2 0 -2

00-01 HC Thurgau NLB 4 2 1 3 8

00-01 La Chaux-de-Fonds NLA 23 2 8 10 6

00-01 La Chaux-de-Fonds NLA* 18 2 4 6 10

00-01 Switzerland WJC20 7 2 1 3 4 0

01-02 SC Bern NLA 35 2 10 12 39

01-02 SC Bern NLA* 6 0 0 0 4

01-02 Switzerland WJC20 7 1 2 3 2 -6

* denotes playoffs