Nova Scotia

Halifax Mooseheads captain Biasca a rarity in team history

Halifax Mooseheads player Attilio Biasca finds himself in select company as only the fourth captain in team history who is from outside of North America. Known as import players, they face some additional challenges to their teammates.

Swiss forward just the franchise's 4th captain from outside of North America

Halifax Mooseheads captain Attilio Biasca celebrates after being named the first star in an Oct. 1, 2022, game in Halifax against the Cape Breton Eagles. The Swiss star is only one of a handful of Europeans to have captained the Mooseheads in the team's 28-year history. (Trevor MacMillan/Halifax Mooseheads)

Halifax Mooseheads player Attilio Biasca finds himself in select company as one of only a handful of captains from outside of North America in team history.

Biasca, 19, is from Zug, Switzerland, and is the 50th captain in team history. While that number might seem high, some players didn't serve in the role for long.

Injuries limited Biasca to 58 games in his first two seasons with the Mooseheads.

He's off to a strong start this year. He was third in team scoring with 11 points prior to Saturday night's game against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.

He said he was speechless when he was named captain.

"It was unbelievable," said Biasca. "All the memories that I have with injuries and stuff, it just all popped out. It was really, really emotional for me because to be honest, I didn't see that coming."

Biasca celebrates his goal during an Oct. 1, 2022, game in Halifax against the Cape Breton Eagles. (Trevor MacMillan/Halifax Mooseheads)

Biasca is classified as an import, which is a player who comes from outside of Canada or the United States. Teams in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League are allowed to carry only two imports on their roster each season.

Biasca isn't the first Swiss player to have played for the Mooseheads.

Swiss stars Timo Meier and Nico Hischier played on the Mooseheads as imports. They were first-round picks in the NHL draft and are enjoying successful pro careers.

Biasca was well-acquainted with the Mooseheads because of Meier and Hischier. When Biasca was drafted, he said they contacted him and congratulated him.

Previous import player captains

Biasca is just the fourth import player to serve as a captain for the Mooseheads. The others were Meier, Tomas Knotek and Petr Vrana.

Team coach Sylvain Favreau said entering the league is an adjustment for any player, which includes daily practices, video sessions, a training regimen and academics.

But import players also face other challenges.

"Oftentimes with European players, we're expecting instant results and we sometimes forget that it is a change for them, not only a different hockey league, a different country, living with billets," he said.

Favreau said language may be a challenge, although that's not the case with Biasca — he speaks German, Czech, Italian, English and a "little bit" of Spanish and French.

Biasca celebrates a goal against Austria during third-period IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship action in Edmonton on Monday, Aug. 15, 2022. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Biasca said the biggest adjustments he faced were getting used to playing on a smaller ice surface and just how much more physical the game is here.

The physicality of the QMJHL was also immediately evident to Vrana, the first import captain in Mooseheads history. He suited up for the team from 2002-05

Vrana, a native of the Czech Republic, came to Halifax at 17. He remembers how big some of his teammates were and how some of them started fighting during the first scrimmage.

"I was in shock, you know, didn't know what was going on," he said.

Halifax Mooseheads captain Petr Vrana, right, checks Sidney Crosby of the Rimouski Oceanic during a game in Halifax on Dec. 6, 2004. Vrana was the team's first European captain. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Vrana, whose lengthy professional career has taken him to the NHL, KHL and back home to the Czech Republic, said he spoke limited English when he arrived.

"It wasn't easy, but you learn," he said. "You have no other choice really."

He said he thinks it's easier for today's import players to adjust. He said he believes the younger players have better language skills.

As well, with social media and modern technology, it's easier to stay connected with people from back home. Vrana said communication in his day was mainly through landlines as cellphones weren't as common as today.

Vrana, shown in an Oct. 29, 2008, game, celebrates scoring against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Vrana's lengthy pro career has included stints in the NHL, KHL and the Czech Republic, where he plays today. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Favreau said in looking for this year's captain, coaches and management looked to see who were the natural leaders on the team — senior players who take younger ones under their wing on and off the ice to show what is expected of them.

Favreau said these factors, as well as Biasca's maturity, social nature and resilience in overcoming injuries, are why he was named team captain.

Biasca said he's up to the task.

"I want to show by example on the ice," he said. "I want to be a big player this year. I wanna take responsibility to win games and I know I can do that."

The team is off to a hot start and was in first place in the Maritimes Division prior to Saturday's game.

Swiss hockey stars Timo Meier, left, and Nico Hischier, are also former Halifax Mooseheads. (Darren Yamashita/AP Photo/Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Biasca will play a key role in the team's success this year.

Twenty years ago, it was Vrana. He helped the team to the league final in 2002-03 as a rookie and was fourth in team scoring with 83 points.

Today, Vrana plays for HC Ocelari Trinec in the top Czech league. Sidelined with an upper body injury, the 37-year-old said he's nearing the end of his professional career, which gives him additional perspective on what it was like to be the captain for 120 games, beginning in the 2003-04 season.

Vrana is shown in an April 28, 2022, photo after his team, HC Ocelari Trinec, won the league championship. (HC Ocelari Trinec)

"Those are the little things that make you happy and make you think, 'OK, it was worth it. You know, it was worth it to make the move to go there,'" he said.

Asked what advice he'd offer to Biasca, Vrana said, "Just go out there and enjoy the game, enjoy your time there because the years fly by."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Woodbury is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team. He can be reached at richard.woodbury@cbc.ca.

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