National League A : Ice Hockey in Switzerland
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.
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
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)
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
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!)
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
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
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
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
NHL Connection: NHL staple, Martin St. Louis signed with Lausanne during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
- Name: HC Lugano
City: Lugano, Switzerland
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
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
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
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:
- 2014-15 Fixtures
- The Official Site (I browse via Chrome and select, “Translate from German.” Works like a charm!)
- League Info: As for most of my research and nerdy tendencies, I frequent EuroHockey.com
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!
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