PLYMOUTH – It is understandable that Damien Brunner, one of the newest Red Wings and a first-time NHL player, would be a little bit nervous. After eight years playing professionally in Switzerland, the 26-year-old experienced his first NHL media scrum on Sunday following the Red Wings first day of training camp.
Wearing a constant smile and appearing a tad uneasy, Brunner fielded questions from the horde – including a query regarding the differences between the media in North America and his native Switzerland.
“Maybe 10 is the highest number of journalists (we had),” Brunner explained. “It’s a small country. (In Switzerland) the media stays out of the dressing room, and not allowed to come in. No cameras allowed. All interviews (were held) on the ice.”
Contrast that with Sunday, where Brunner, who has been dominating the Swiss league for years, was surrounded by around 50 media members in the bowels of Compuware Arena and grilled on a number of topics.
Not the least frequent of which was in regards to Brunner living up to the hype; his YouTube highlights have garnered some serious attention after playing alongside Henrik Zetterberg earlier this season for Zug in the Swiss league.
“Actually, I don’t know if it is hype,” Brunner said. “I haven’t heard about that. I was playing in Switzerland and now I’m here and I’m battling for a spot.”
Nonetheless, he has been touted as an offensive force and there is a possibility that he will find himself with an opportunity to play on a line with Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. While teammates have vouched for his legitimacy as an NHL talent, there is no chance he will let all the praise inflate his ego. The proof, he explained, is on the ice surface.
“It’s nice that they have some nice words,” Brunner began. “But, but the end of the day, I have to prove it on the ice. This was one day of practice, and I can’t say I did anything special today. I try to skate hard and put pucks in the net.”
Despite appearances, not everything is working in Brunner’s favor as he transitions to the NHL. He will have to overcome the challenges of playing on a much smaller ice surface compared to those found in Europe. Often, that means more physical contact and less space with which to make plays.
Wings coach Mike Babcock is taking a wait-and-see perspective in evaluating Brunner’s ability to fit in.
“We think he’s obviously a real talented guy,” Babcock explained. “Time’s going to tell how he adapts. It worked out as good for him as it could have possibly worked. (Zetterberg) comes over, he develops a friendship (and) a confidence to play with real good players. Now, he’s just got to keep doing the same thing. So, we’re excited about having him.”
That relationship with Zetterberg has made Brunner’s inclusion in the Wings locker room much easier. The veteran Swede even hosted Brunner, and helped him feel welcome on a visit to America nearly three months ago.
“He’s helping me a lot,” Brunner said. “I was supposed to stay at a hotel, and he had me come join him at his house and I lived with him. It was a great gesture (for) a player of his caliber and it took away so much nervousness. When a guy like him takes care of you, it’s really nice.”
While Brunner is seemingly at ease now that he and Zetterberg have forged a bond on the ice, it is clear that the Swiss rookie remains in awe of potentially playing on a line with Datsyuk.
“I still don’t believe it,” Brunner began. “Until I step on the ice with him.”