ZUG – SC Bern won its 15th Swiss championship in Game 6 of the final series on the road against EV Zug and becomes the first Swiss team since the ZSC Lions Zurich (2000-2001) to win back-to-back championships in the National League A.
It was a perfect season for the club with the biggest revenue in the league and the highest attendance in Europe. Each playoff home game was sold out with 17,031 fans and the fans had a lot to celebrate this season.
Their team won the regular season with a 37-13 record and five points ahead of the other big team, the ZSC Lions Zurich that surprisingly lost to seventh-seeded HC Lugano in the quarter-finals making the road to gold less bumpy.
After smooth playoff rounds against EHC Biel (4-1) and HC Lugano (4-1) the team faced EV Zug, which reached the final for the first time since 1998 when the club from Central Switzerland won its only championship.
Zug had easily disposed of Geneve-Servette in the first round, 4-0, and beat HC Davos 4-2 in the semi-finals in a tighter series. The opponent for gold was again a higher hurdle. Too high. The first game in Berne ended with a 5-0 win for the home team. Two days later SC Bern won 4-2 on the road to set the tone for a seemingly easy series.
However, Zug came back, won 2-1 in overtime on the road in Bern and 3-2 in overtime in Game 4 in Zug to tie the series.
“They didn’t make it easy for us. It’s a great feeling to finish the championship like this. We’re pretty balanced all around. We have a great goalie, good forwards and a solid D core. When we play our best hockey we are tough to beat,” said Mark Arcobello, the top scorer of the regular season (25+30=55).
In Game 5 SC Bern switched back to their best hockey. They regained the series lead with a 6-1 victory on home ice and got the chance to win the championship on Easter Monday in Zug. They did it with a 5-1 road victory to win the series 4-2. Three of the four wins SCB had ended with a gap of four or five goals.
“We said we want to continue like in the last game, play aggressively and we managed to,” said Thomas Rufenacht, who stole the puck behind the Zug goal from former NHL defenceman Raphael Diaz to score the opening goal.
The forward, who was born in Switzerland but spent some of his formative years in the U.S., has been the biggest revelation. Not seen as good enough for top-flight hockey he had to play four years in the B league before he got a chance in Zug of all teams. He made himself a name as agent provocateur with many penalty minutes. He’s still a tough guy but also found other skills by scoring important goals in the post-season. In 16 playoffs games he contributed seven markers and 11 assists. Ten of his 18 scoring points came from the final series against his former club Zug.
While SC Bern is the first club in a long time to defend the Swiss title, the team that won the 2017 championship had a couple of changes for its challenge. In goal SCB signed Leonardo Genoni from HC Davos for this season to replace Marco Buhrer, who retired. With Arcobello they found their new top import. And the club also didn’t extend the contract with coach Lars Leuenberger but instead went with Kari Jalonen, who was coaching the Finnish national team during the previous two seasons.
“It’s outstanding. I had a great team. Before the game we said that we came here to play our best road game and we did. Today we were so strong and they didn’t have a chance to win against us,” he said on Swiss TV after the final win.
His recipe? Hard work and not being an easy coach during the regular season, while in the play-offs “we just let the players play”.
For the next season SC Bern will aim at making it three in a row with more changes looming as David Jobin and Marc Reichert ended their career with another title while the club and long-time centre Martin Pluss, 40, decided to part ways after unsuccessful contract negotiations. While looking for high-calibre replacement for the Swiss answer to Jaromir Jagr, other teams will prepare to chase the team from the Swiss capital once again next season.