National League A : Ice Hockey in Switzerland

Photo by Chris Hext (permission required)

Hello again! It’s excellent to be contributing to Ice Nation UK once more after the off-season and a bit of a break. I’ve decided to stick to my European league pieces and introduce you to yet another piece the international ice hockey puzzle; Switzerland’s National League A.

As you can probably ascertain by the name, the country has more than one tier of professional ice hockey, National League B being the second. So, let’s get going with a brief overview.

Who’s Who

If you follow the European game at all, then you’re familiar with a few of the small country’s top clubs; SC Bern, ZSC Zurich, HC Davos, and perhaps even EV Zug. These are a few of the more well known clubs you might expect to see in a friendly against an NHL Team, like in 2011 when the New York Rangers traveled to play EV Zug, a game which ended in an 8-4 victory for the Swiss side. A few seasons earlier, the Rangers traveled to play SC Bern, wherein they took home the W, 8-1.

HC Davos hosts the annual Spengler Cup, from Boxing Day (For my UK readers…) through the first week of the new year. The annual tournament involves clubs from all over the world. Last season, from America, the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans took part. From elsewhere in Europe you had HC Vitkovice Steel, out of Ostrava, Czech Republic; KHL side CSKA Moscow; as well as HC Genéve-Servette, another NLA club; and Team Canada.

If you’re not familiar with ZSC Zurich, you may be familiar with their latest head coach, Marc Crawford. The Canadian front man led the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup championship over the Florida Panthers in their inaugural season in Denver after moving from Quebec City in 1995-1996. He stayed with the Avs through the 1998 season before leaving for seven seasons to coach the Vancouver Canucks, two with the Kings in Los Angeles and two with the Dallas Stars from 2009-2011. He signed with ZSC over the off-season in 2012 and this past season, led the Lions to a National League title.

Get to Know the Clubs: Ambri-Piotta to ZSC Zurich

The NLA, like most in Europe, implements a promotion-relegation structure. The four teams at the bottom of the table play in a relegation tournament. The lowest ranked two teams play each other after that six match tournament, then that loser goes head-to-head with the top team from the second tier, National League B in a Best-of-Seven playoff. If the NLB club wins the series, you have a new addition to NLA the following season. However, if, like this past season, the NLA club wins out, the picture remains the same. (NLA on Wikipedia and HockeyArenas)

This season, the twelve clubs are as follows:

  • Name: HC Ambrí-Piotta
    City: Ambrí, Switzerland
    Arena: La Valascia
    Capacity: 7,000
    NHL Connection: Signed former NHLer & Korean, Richard Park in 2012. He remains a vital part of the club. His NHL experience was had with Pittsburgh, Anaheim, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Vancouver and the NY Islanders
  • Name: SC Bern
    City: Bern, Switzerland
    Arena: Allmend (PostFinance Arena)
    Capacity: 17,131
    NHL Connection: The club has a history of playing international friendlies against NHL teams. Also, during past lockouts they have played host to top NHL talent such as, Daniel Briére, Marc Savard, Swiss-Native Marc Streit and John Tavares.
  • Name: EHC Biel
    City: Biel, Switzerland
    Arena: Eisstadion Biel
    Capacity: 7,000
    NHL Connection: NHLers Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin and homegrown net-minder Reto Berra played here during the 2012-2013 lockout.
  • Name: HC Davos
    City: Davos, Switzerland
    Arena: Vaillant Arena (Also present, is an outdoor rink right outside the arena. VERY cool!)
    Capacity: 7,280
    NHL Connection: This remains one of most Swiss-heavy clubs, in an already very Swiss-heavy league, however, during the 2008 lockout, Petr Sykora played here. He returned after a stint with Pardubice of the Czech Extraliga for the 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, before returning to his hometown club in the Czech Republic last season.
  • Name: HC Fribourg-Gottéron
    City: Fribourg, Switzerland
    Arena: BCF Arena
    Capacity: 6,800
    NHL Connection: Current Captain, Sean Hines, spent time on and off in North America, playing professionally with the Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks and the now famously defunct, Atlanta Thrashers. He has been with the club since 2006.
  • Name: Genéve-Servette HC
    City: Geneva, Switzerland
    Arena: Les Vernets
    Capacity: 7,200
    NHL Connection: Brother of two-time Stanley Cup winner, Marty McSorley, Chris McSorley, has been the head coach at HCGS since 2001. (Disclaimer: this was probably the fact I most geeked out about writing this post…)
  • Name: Kloten Flyers
    City: Kloten, Switzerland
    Arena: Kolping Arena
    Capacity: 7,624
    NHL Connection: HCK boasts a handful of NHL stars in their past, including Patrice Brisebois, Rod Brind’Amour, Jeff Halpern, Olii Jokinen and Damien Brunner.
  • Name: Lausanne HC
    City: Lausanne, Switzerland
    Arena: Malley
    Capacity: 10,300
    NHL Connection: NHL staple, Martin St. Louis signed with Lausanne during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
  • Name: HC Lugano
    City: Lugano, Switzerland
    Arena: Resega
    Capacity: 8,250
    NHL Connection: Son of NHL Hall of Famer Ray Borque, Chris, played with HCL for 2013-14 before signing with the New York Rangers last month.
  • Name: Rapperswil-Jona Lakers
    City: Rapperswil, Switzerland
    Arena: Diners Club Arena
    Capacity: 6,200
    NHL Connection: WAY back during the 1994 lockout, NHL Hall of Famer, Doug Gilmer made an appearance with Rapperswil.
  • Name: EV Zug
    City: Zug, Switzerland
    Arena: Bossard Arena
    Capacity: 7,015
    NHL Connection: Another club to have a history playing against NHL clubs in friendlies, current net-minder, Jussi Markkanen, started in net for the Edmonton Oilers during their 2006 Stanley Cup Finals campaign against the Carolina Hurricaines.
  • Name: ZSC Lions
    City: Zurich, Switzerland
    Arena: Hallenstadion
    Capacity: 11,200
    NHL Connection: As I previously mentioned, former NHL coach, Marc Crawford is at the helm and led the club to a NLA title last season.

Want To Know A Little More?

If you’re looking to follow National League A this season, here are some great places to begin:

For fun, check out this 22 minute gem from youtube which includes photos and chants from the NLA clubs. It’s a couple of years old and so some of the teams included are out of date, but still fun:

Hopefully now you have enough information and a sparked interest to give National League A a try this upcoming season.

As for me, this will be my first season following the league in depth, proudly supporting EV Zug!

Follow Dylan on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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