Zach Boychuk reflects on oddities of fan-less games in Swiss League

The HC crew speculates on what might happen to all the conditional draft picks if this season is wiped out, also discuss an interesting proposal where 2 Stanley Cups are awarded in 2020-21 season, one in each calendar year.

Zach Boychuk still chuckles at the sight of the goofy green dragon roaming alone in the stands.

It was two-and-a-half weeks ago when the puck was about to drop on HC Fribourg-Gotteron’s second game played without fans in attendance.

With tensions high and playoff implications on the line, the lone sound of skates scraping on ice was interrupted when an unexpected visitor walked into the 6,500-seat BCF Arena in Fribourg, Switzerland.

“Our mascot showed up and he started banging his little drum before the game like he normally does,” said Boychuk, a 30-year-old forward from Airdrie, Alta., just outside Calgary, where he is now in quarantine.

“Both teams just started cracking up, laughing at this mascot. It was hilarious — the funniest thing ever. This green dragon is just banging away — even our coach is cracking up.”

Outside of broadcast personnel, a few media types, the training staffs and doctors, no one else was privy to the surreal — and suddenly hilarious — scene brought on by early Swiss measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“It was really, really odd to play with no fans — you could hear every single player chirping one another,” said Boychuk, a former 14th pick overall by Carolina, where he played the bulk of his 127 NHL games.

“The game meant so much, so it was so weird. Our coach ended up getting kicked out for yelling at the ref. Normally the crowd noise would have just drowned it out. But you could hear every single word so, boom — immediately tossed.”

Their previous game, played in front of 17,000 empty seats in Bern, marked Boychuk’s first return to the city in which his former club won last year’s National League title, setting the stage for more oddities.

“I was supposed to get my championship watch from the team, and there were no fans there, so they just gave it to me after in a little bag,” chuckled the junior star, who won two world junior titles and two Spengler Cups for Canada.

“I was like, ‘Oh, thanks.’”

Shortly after the team’s Feb. 29 game, the league postponed operations for two weeks, leaving him in limbo, near the Italian border in Fribourg.

“I think we were all hoping to play playoffs, but because of how close we were to Italy I think a lot of guys were getting pretty nervous about the situation,” said Boychuk.

On Thursday, the Swiss League became the seventh in Europe to cancel its season, putting the wheels in motion for Boychuk and his girlfriend to make a mad scramble home ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on European flights.

He arrived in Calgary on Friday and went immediately to the family farm in Airdrie to be with his mother and step-dad, who just returned from Jamaica.

“We’re basically quarantining together,” he said of the group.

“We’ve been going for walks on gravel roads, staying away from people and doing workouts on TV.”

Boychuk found out Monday the head coach of a team he played a recent exhibition game against tested positive for the coronavirus.

“As far as I know, nobody had coronavirus, but I don’t think anybody really got tested,” said Boychuk, adding he’ll soon resume his tireless off-season social media work, which has earned him 860,000 Twitter followers.

The unknown is just the capper to a bizarre season in which the former KHLer wasn’t signed until late December, when his season debut was delayed by a last-minute invite to be an injury replacement at the Spengler Cup, where he won his second gold.

“It was definitely a weird year overall,” he chuckled.

“I was planning on a nice, warm vacation, but it looks like that’s on hold for a while.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.