Bears sniff at honey pot

SC Bern eager to qualify for the Champions Hockey League

10.09.2008
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Former SC Bern defenceman Sven Leuenberger is managing the team now. Photo: IMS Sport AG

BERNE – When the IIHF announced the creation of the Champions Hockey League in May of 2007, SC Bern paid immediate attention. Just three months later, qualifying for the CHL was named one of the club’s main goals.

The “Bears” want to play for European honour and participate in the €10m prize pot. An understandable goal for the club with the European attendance record.

SC Bern was the regular season winner of the National League A last season. This season, although only three games in, Bern is still unbeaten. The debut in the reconstructed PostFinance Arena was another sold-out game with 17,131 fans.

The early success is not something to be taken for granted. The club is missing two key forwards: team captain Ivo Rüthemann and Martin Plüss, who returned to Switzerland after four years with Frölunda in Sweden.

“We cope amazingly well with the injuries even though players with such  experience would be good in delicate situations. And without Plüss we had fewer options for the centre position during the pre-season,” SC Bern general manager Sven Leuenberger said before Thursday’s departure to Nuremberg. That’s why the club signed two former NHL players for the CHL qualifying tournament.

Forward Lee Goren arrived in Berne on Friday, defenceman Richard Jackman on Sunday. Both are practicing regularly with the team but didn’t play in the 4-3 overtime win at the Rapperswil-Jona Lakers on Tuesday.

Leuenberger himself had a busy pre-season. After head coach John van Boxmeer’s heart attack in early August, the 39-year-old replaced him for more than three weeks. This interim assignment meant that Leuenberger added another position on his SCB résumé. He was a defenceman for SC Bern for 15 years and played in six world championships and the 1992 Olympics.

“The tournament is important for us. We believe that European club hockey is the future and we are ready for a format where we can play both in the Swiss league and in the Champions Hockey League,  as both are important for us”, explained Leuenberger. “We want to take part and to have a slice of the cake and this is our first opportunity to get in.”

Bern didn’t play any pre-season games against domestic rivals. “German teams are well-known for smashing in pre-season games and we wanted to play technical and fast teams. We rely on our own strengths,” said Leuenberger. However, the opponents – the Sinupret Ice Tigers Nuremberg (Germany) on Friday and HC Kosice (Slovakia) on Sunday – won’t be complete strangers to the players as they got several videos of the opponents’ games from this season and had contact with coaches of their domestic rivals.

“It’s difficult to rate the teams and there’s no clear cut favourite, it will be well-balanced,” Leuenberger believes.

Notebook:
  • Lee Goren already found his third club of the season. After two games with SC Bern, he will play with EV Zug for one month before starting his six-month contract with Färjestads BK in Sweden.
  • Goren will replace one of Zug’s most important players, Dale McTavish. He suffered a thigh injury in Tuesday’s game against the ZSC Lions and he will be sidelined for ten weeks. In the same game Michael Kress suffered a right knee injury and will be out for eight weeks.
  • Promoted EHC Biel/Bienne signed former first-round pick Rico Fata. The club persuaded Germany’s Adler Mannheim to release the Canadian. He replaces Eric Himelfarb, who broke his nose.
  • Champions Hockey League participant ZSC Lions extended its contract with captain Mathias Seger. The 30-year-old signed until 2012.
  • Servette Geneva re-signed former Phoenix Coyotes defender Goran Bezina, who is under contract until 2013.
  • SC Bern leads the individual stats as Christian Dubé has one goal and five assists. Kloten’s Kimmo Rintanen is the best goal scorer with four.

MARTIN MERK

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