ZSC Lions Zurich captain Mathias Seger hoists the trophy his club’s
A big congratulations goes out to One Million Skates contributor Marc Crawford on his teams decisive victory over local rivals the Kloten Flyers. The 4-0 series record crowned the Zurich Lions with their eighth straight National League A title.
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) captures more:
ZURICH, CH – ZSC Lions Zurich has won its eight Swiss championship. After surviving two playoff rounds that went over seven games, the Lions swept local rival Kloten Flyers 4-0 in the final series of the National League A.
Although the Lions clearly won the regular season they didn’t have an easy start to the post-season. Lausanne HC, which was promoted last year and made the playoffs for the first time ever, shocked the Lions on their home ice with a 4-1 victory to start the quarter-final series. When the Lions seemed to turn the series with a 3-1 lead, Lausanne tied it with two consecutive wins before Zurich won Game 7 1-0 thanks to Marc-André Bergeron’s goal.
For the semi-finals the Lions had to travel to Lake Geneva again. The lead in the series between the Lions and Genève-Servette went back and forth until the Lions won Game 7 at home 4-0.
Then came the final, featuring two teams whose arenas are only a few kilometres and a few minutes by train away from each other. The Lions in the northern Zurich district of Oerlikon faced the Flyers from the suburb of Kloten, famous for its international airport and hockey.
Kloten reached the final playing a brand of hockey with an emphasis on defence, strong skating and efficient forwards. But in the final series it was the ZSC Lions Zurich who dominated in the derby with a lot of depth and skill. They didn’t win the games easily, but they won them all.
National team forward Patrik Bartschi scored the only goal in ZSC’s 1-0 win to start the series. In the next game Kloten’s Tommi Santala opened the scoring but the Lions earned a 2-1 win thanks to goals from Latvian national team forward Ronalds Kenins and Ryan Keller.
Back on home ice for Game 3 the 11,200 fans in the sold-out Hallenstadion saw three unanswered goals including two from national team player Luca Cunti en route to a 5-2 victory.
The Kloten Flyers tried everything to prevent their archrival from celebrating the title in their home arena. National team defenceman Eric Blum opened the scoring for the Flyers in Game 4 but Chris Baltisberger tied it up for the Lions and eventually a shootout had to decide the winner. Robert Nilsson, a Swedish-Canadian citizen who started to play as a kid in Switzerland, converted the 12th penalty that became the championship-clinching goal after Nilsson had already scored on Kloten goalie Martin Gerber earlier in the shootout.
“It’s quite a cool feeling to be alone out there with the goalkeeper. Especially when the team wins,” Nilsson told SRF after the game.
This year’s playoffs had a record number of teams from the French-speaking area with three clubs making the quarter-finals in addition to three squads from the German-speaking area and both teams from the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. But despite the lingual variety, in the end the post-season culminated for the first time ever with a Battle of Zurich.
The ZSC Lions Zurich were the big winner and earned the title by having not only the biggest youth organization in the country with fresh talent coming up to the NLA team every year but also by being the only club that can afford to have a farm team in the B-league to help develop young players. That gave the Lions the advantage of having much-needed roster depth while the Flyers ran out of energy with several defencemen injured.
Coach Marc Crawford basically joined a team similarly organized to what he was used to it in the NHL.
“The Kloten Flyers fought well. It’s not a shame to lose against an awesome team. And we were an awesome team. I told the players they played like champions all the year,” Crawford told Tages-Anzeiger.
“It helped me a lot that we had a group of leaders led by Mathias Seger. A coach can say whatever he wants. In the end the players decide. They have to look in their eyes and play for each other. If your leaders create an atmosphere in which everybody wants to be the best-possible team player and doesn’t let anybody down, then beautiful things can happen.”
The Kloten Flyers, third in the regular season, were still a pleasant surprise considering that the club was close to bankruptcy less than two years ago after years of overspending – something that hasn’t changed but is now done with the backing of a new billionaire owner.
That promoted Lausanne made the playoffs was as much a surprise as seeing 400-soul village Ambri-Piotta there for the first time in many years.
On the downside defending champion SC Bern was already out of contention before the playoff fun started. With EV Zug another team with top-4 ambitions missed the playoffs while EHC Biel finished the league in last place but qualified for next season in a series against NLB champion EHC Visp with former NHL star Alexei Kovalyov.
Now the focus in Switzerland will turn to the national team that goes to the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk as defending silver medallist. The Swiss will play two exhibition games in Neuchatel and Basel against the Czech Republic this week followed by two more pre-competition games against Germany in Mannheim and against Canada in Zurich.
MARTIN MERK, IIHF