Keeping in touch

When Luca Sbisa was drafted 19th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008, he was 18-years-old. He was on top of the world. If you’ve ever tried to reason with an 18-year-old, it can be difficult, what with them having the answers to all of life’s questions already.

“I’m glad the Flyers talked some sense into me,” laughed Sbisa, on the bus Thursday after morning skate at the Wells Fargo Center. “When I made the team out of camp, I started looking for a place and wanted to live on my own. The Flyers said they had a better idea.”

The Flyers reached out to Allison Staffin, an assistant principal at Cherry Hill High School in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to see if she’d billet another player. Staffin had taken in Flyers Justin Williams and Todd Fedoruk, among others, over the years and agreed to house Sbisa at her home near the team’s practice rink.

“I had billets in Lethbridge when I played there and they were like a second family, but that was junior. That situation helped me transition to a new city and team, it was just like living at home, but I wasn’t sure why the Flyers wanted me to live with a billet.

“Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t fight it. It was another transition for me. Allison was like an older sister to me, she helped me a lot. She helped with my cooking and cleaning and stuff, which I knew, but she helped me be more responsible. She wasn’t there to spy on me and report to the team, she was there to help me out however I needed.

“Without her there, I would have had a much harder time.”

Sbisa lived with Staffin for the bulk of the 2008-09 season, before being reassigned to junior. He was recalled to Philadelphia for the playoffs and reunited with Staffin, for likely the final time.

“I wanted to live on my own the next season, but I wanted to visit her when I got in after the summer. The day I arrived I went over to the house and that was when I found out I was traded to Anaheim. That was difficult for me as a young player, so she helped me through that as well.”

Sbisa, now 26, is in his ninth NHL season and third with the Canucks. Despite being married and across North America living in another country, Staffin is always a phone call away, a call Sbisa makes every few weeks. Being in Philly, the pair were able to meet for dinner Wednesday night and reminisce about young lost Luca.

“Every time I’m here we catch up, she even came to the game we played in Washington last month. I consider her family.”

*****

Sbisa, who was born in Italy and moved to Switzerland as a kid, grew up in Zug, a fishing town in Switzerland, and although he loved hockey, the NHL “was an untouchable fantasyland.”

With games not shown on TV, the only knowledge Sbisa had of the NHL was from five VHS tapes his mom would gift him as birthday or Christmas presents. He’d watch and watch and watch and re-watch and re-watch them; thinking back, he’s grateful for the effort it must have taken his mom to track them down.

“I don’t think she got them on-line, back then I don’t even think we had the Internet! She’d ask this guy, who would ask that guy, who would talk to that other guy, and eventually down the chain someone would have a tape. I’d get them for just two weeks sometimes.”

Sbisa fell in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who were heavily featured on the tapes, along with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, as one of the tapes was D2: The Mighty Ducks.

“I’ve seen that at least 100 times. That’s all I would watch. There was no YouTube; I just watched what I had. They were in German too, I didn’t know much English yet.”

Which Mighty Ducks character is Sbisa, you ask…

“I’m definitely one of the Bash brothers, you know me!”

We know you better than ever now.

Derek Jory – @NoJoryous

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