Antonietti an imposing presence at rookie camp

Antonietti an imposing presence at rookie camp
July 11, 2014, 12:45 pm
Share This Post

Eliot Antonietti is hard not to notice.

At 6-foot-6, 236 pounds, the heavily bearded defensemen from Orbe, Switzerland is one part lumberjack, one part hockey player.

Invited to participate in the Capitals’ development camp, Antonietti, who looks much older than 21, was pleasantly surprised when his agent emailed him and asked him to pack his bags for his first trip to America.

“I was surprised in the beginning and I thought, ‘Wow, this is my chance. I’m just doing my best.’”

Antonietti set career highs in games [46], goals [3] and assists [5] while playing for Geneve-Servette in Switzerland’s National League A. But don’t be fooled by his size and rugged looks.

“I’m tall and I’m heavy but I don’t really play tough,” Antonietti said. “I don’t really fight. I play a lot offensive and I have to work on my defensive side.

“I have a good pass. All the people think the big guy has to be tough, he has to be a fighter.   But when I watch the game in the NHL I think the game has changed. Now defensemen can move, have good mobility and a great shot. If you have too many players who just check and have size I don’t think you have a good team.”

In his first scrimmage on a smaller ice surface Thursday afternoon Antonietti seemed to have some trouble defending against speedy forwards like Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky, but took several opportunities to jump up in the play on the offensive side.

“The ice in Switzerland is bigger, here it is tight,” Antonietti said. “I look at [Bruins 6-foot-9 defenseman Zdeno] Chara and I like how he’s playing because he’s really tall and he’s not too slow. He has that reach. If you’re tall like me or Chara you have to work with your potential. We are tall so we can check small people.”

Like Chara, Antonietti possesses a booming slapshot but says he needs to work on his precision. He recently re-signed with Geneve-Servette but says he is eligible to play professionally in the U.S. if a team signs him to a contract.

“Every player wants to play in the NHL,” he said. “I think you have to play in the American League at first because it’s really hard to make the big step to the NHL.

“If I have the chance to move to America it would be a great experience for me. I don’t want to stay in Geneva lots of years. I want to see something else and try a new experience.”

For now, Antonietti is enjoying his first visit to the nation’s capital, saying strangers helped him find his hockey sticks in baggage claim and made him feel comfortable upon his arrival.

As for the heavy beard, Antonietti says he began growing it as part of a bet with a friend. Antonietti agreed to stop shaving while his friend agreed to grow his hair leading up to the Spengler Cup, a hockey tournament held annually in Switzerland during the Christmas holidays.

“He lost the bet because he cut his hair just before the Spengler Cup,” Antonietti said. “I won.”

And now the beard is a part of Antonietti’s identity.

“Everybody ask me,” he said. “I like it. It’s part of my personality. When they say Eliot, ‘Ah, the big guy with the beard.’ That’s me.”