Though Sven Baertschi is well across the world from his hometown of Bern, Switzerland, he doesn't feel as far away as one might think.
The Vancouver Canucks forward, who attended training camp with the team at Meadow Park Sports Centre from Sept. 23 to 26, explained being around the mountains gives him a bit of a boost.
"Coming up here really brings you back to home and gives you the feeling of being back home. Being around here, I think, gives you a little energy again. You've got the fresh air here and lots of stuff to do here," Baertschi said.
Baertschi has enjoyed life in the Pacific Northwest for much of his time in North America, save for some time with the Canucks' affiliate in Utica, N.Y. two seasons ago. The 23-year-old played his junior hockey with the Portland Winterhawks and spent time with the Calgary Flames organization when it had its top affiliate in Abbotsford, before being traded to the Canucks in the 2014-15 season. Rather than heading back to Europe, the blossoming sniper spent much of the offseason in B.C., familiarizing himself with the Sea to Sky.
"I love Whistler. I come here all the time. I come here at least once a month. I like the area. To me, it looks really similar to home with the mountains," said Baertschi, who came up to Whistler last Christmas for the snow. "I fell in love with Portland, Seattle and Vancouver — they're my kind of towns."
Baertschi tallied 15 goals in 69 games last season and hopes to improve on that this season. Through drafts and trades, he hasn't had any say in the places he's played, but feels he's been fortunate with where he's managed to land.
"As a professional athlete, you get put in places you don't pick," he said. "For me, it's been unbelievable, a different experience from what I had before and I really feel comfortable when I'm in Vancouver. That's why I stick around in the summer. Obviously, the rain in the winter is a little tougher, but the summers are beautiful and I agree, it really does make you feel comfortable."
Baertschi said he's only snowboarded for "maybe three days" because of the expense and injury risk, but said it's something he'd like to try in retirement.
Veteran goalie Richard Bachman, meanwhile, inked with the Vancouver organization in the summer of 2015. The 29-year-old, born in Salt Lake City and raised in Colorado, is accustomed to living amongst peaks and valleys. After playing two seasons with Colorado College, he bided his time in the Lone Star State with the Dallas Stars and their affiliate in Austin before splitting two seasons with Edmonton and Oklahoma City of the American Hockey League.
Last year, Bachman spent much of the season in Utica, getting into just one game with the Canucks. With Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom filling the big club's crease, he'll likely start the season in New York state, but still appreciated the chance to spend some time in Whistler.
"I was driving up into the mountains and talking to some guys. They love coming up here and (I was) saying 'You've got to come check out Aspen or Vail or Beaver Creek, all the spots that I check out in the summertime,'" Bachman said. "(Whistler has) got a very similar mountain feel and (with) the little shops and restaurants, it looks like a great place to hang out and relax. It's a great place to start the hockey season."
Bachman makes regular excursions to Beaver Creek, Colo. in the offseason with his family. He still has plenty of hockey left in him, but has an eye on hitting the slopes once his time on the ice winds down.
"I did a little skiing, a little snowboarding, back to skiing until I was about 13 or so and hockey started getting a little too competitive — you were always gone on the weekends," he said. "We'd go up to the mountains all the time and I was saying the other day, 'When I am done playing, I am going to get right back into it and get into the mountains all the time.'"
Borna Rendulic signed with the Canucks this summer after spending time in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Though he got 14 games with the Denver-based club, he spent the past two years in much different locales in Cleveland and San Antonio. The 24-year-old Croatian previously played all over Europe and is excited for the chance to play in Canada.
Raised in Zagreb, Rendulic skied and played soccer in addition to hockey, but with his livelihood now contingent on him being on the ice, he doesn't want to do anything to put that in jeopardy.
"I skied when I was really young, but when I became pro, I don't do it because I don't want to get injured," he said. "You know how it goes, insurance doesn't cover it and it kind of sucks.
"When I was younger, I was skiing all the time, my parents took me and it was nice, but not anymore."
New Canucks defenceman Erik Gudbranson, acquired in an offseason trade with the Florida Panthers, is embracing the fairly drastic change from Miami's South Beach. The 24-year-old Ottawa native has crossed the continent, but is enjoying his new Pacific surroundings, especially in his home country.
"The biggest thing is I feel at home here. I feel comfortable walking around the city. I love the city. There's a lot to do and I can't speak enough about the backyard you guys have here," he said. "I did the hike up to Garibaldi Lake about two weeks ago with my girlfriend. It hurt. It's not an easy task. I thought it was only a couple hours and it's a bit longer than that but once you get up, it's absolutely breathtaking what you see.
"The fact it's only an hour drive away and within that boundary, there's tons more stuff you can do."
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